Oxford’s French department is the biggest in Britain, with 31 permanent members of staff covering all areas of French literature and language. We have an intake of about 200 students a year. Our course reflects the diversity and richness of both the language and the culture of France, which has been one of the most influential nations in the world. Its impact in numerous areas, ranging from gastronomy to science, has been huge, and its literature has influenced numerous others, including English (Shakespeare read the essayist Montaigne; the nineteenth-century novelist George Eliot took her pen-name George as a tribute to France’s most famous woman writer of the time, George Sand).
France produced, in the eighteenth century, four great political thinkers (Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and Montesquieu) whose ideas shaped the modern political outlook of Northern Europe and the United States of America. It was the home of Impressionism, and it was to Paris that painters flocked in the early twentieth century from all over Europe to practise their art and to share ideas that led, for example, to Cubism. The cinema was invented in France in the nineteenth century (the first ever public film screening took place in Paris in 1895).
We train all students thoroughly in the language all through the course, and offer papers for those whose particular interest is in Linguistics; our core first-year course introduces you to the complete range of French literature, and if you want to study French on its own, you can take a French cinema paper in your first year (those studying French in combination with another language or subject can do our European Cinema paper a little later in the course).
You can also, if studying French on its own, take a first-year paper in French thought , which will introduce you to the sheer intellectual strength (both past and continuing) of this culture. In your second and final years, whether studying French on its own or with another language or subject, you can take a paper in Literature and the Visual Arts, and our very flexible course allows you to make a specialist study of the greatest French writers, from Rabelais to Proust, as well as choosing particular centuries for wider-ranging study.
Why choose French?
French is among the most widely-spoken modern languages in the world, with over 120 million speakers worldwide. It is an official language in such diverse places as Louisiana, Martinique and Belgium as well as France itself, and the many different kinds of French that exist ensure that the language remains central to a thriving variety of cultures. The literature, art and cinema of France are among the richest and most influential in the world.
Oxford has the largest French department in Britain, with experts in all areas of French language, literature and culture. The libraries and learning facilties in Oxford are second to none: The Taylor Institution, the Modern languages library and the Language centre (which offers a range of free materials and classes) have first-rate resources, as well as materials for independent study. Well-stocked college libraries ensure that set books are readily available. Oxford is also fortunate to have the Maison Française, a French cultural centre with a termly programme of films and conferences. The Oxford French course can be studied in a number of combinations (with other languages or subjects), and the department offers an exceptionally wide range of options, such as: French literature, cinema, art, linguistics, advanced translation, literary theory and many others.
Joint Schools (French with another subject)
French can be studied with any other modern language offered by the Oxford faculty of modern and medieval languages, e.g Spanish, German, Italian, Greek, Portuguese,Russian, Arabic, Czech and Slovak, Hebrew, Turkish and Persian. It can also be studied with: English, Philosophy, History and Classics. (NB some colleges have restrictions on combinations – do check that the college you wish to apply to takes the combination you hope to study.)
The year abroad is one of the most attractive aspects of a modern languages course. Students have a range of options: e.g. they can study at a foreign university, do voluntary work, work in a foreign company or follow training courses in the country of their choice. The department and several colleges have schemes with French universities, which students are encouraged to take advantage of. We also find teaching assistantships in schools and universities for our students, guaranteeing them a living wage while abroad. In practice most our students take this option. However, tutors are flexible and always ready to help, even with the most unusual year abroad plans.
What if I’ve done no literature at school?
It doesn’t matter. Most of our students have not studied literature as part of their school courses, and we do not expect you to have read widely in French literature when you apply. Most students arrive here and find that the literature fascinates them – it is after all part of the culture which feeds the language. However, we are looking for applicants who are interested in the literature and culture of the French-speaking world, and who have the potential to get the most from a challenging language and literature course. It will be helpful if you have read and enjoyed literary texts (in French, English or any other language) independently.
Other sources of information
French sites and resources from the Taylor Institution Language/Country Resources page
French Weblinks from the Language Centre