Polish is a major European language, and the second largest in the Slavonic language family. Poland boasts more than a millennium of recorded history in the heart of Europe. Poles rightly pride themselves on their outstanding cultural and literary achievements. After almost thirty years of breathtaking changes and reforms following the end of Communism, Poland and Central Europe as a whole are again distinctly dynamic and diverse. The country’s economic, political and cultural strength offers exciting and promising opportunities to graduates with a degree in Polish. Knowledge of a less commonly taught language is a distinct resource for further study and professional purposes. Past graduates work in education and cultural institutions, in business and finance, for the civil service, and as translators and interpreters, both in the UK and abroad.
Oxford is one of the few British universities where Polish can be studied to degree level. Polish is available in combination with one of the following languages: French, German, Spanish or Russian (post A-level and, under specific circumstances, for beginners). Polish accounts for one third of the course. It is also an integral component of the new Russian sole course. For further information about combining Polish with Italian, Portuguese or Greek, please contact the Modern Languages Faculty Office. Application is open to beginners as well as existing speakers of Polish, including those with Polish A-levels. Admission does not depend on the level of proficiency, but on a keen and serious interest in the language and literature as well as in linguistics and literary studies in general.
Polish language and literature are also available as optional subjects to students of Modern Languages other than Polish, notably Russian and Czech, as well as to undergraduates in Linguistics.
Oxford invites applications for the degree course in Polish in combination with one of the following languages: French, German, Spanish or Russian (post A-level and, under specific circumstances, for beginners). It is also an integral component of the new Russian sole course. For further information about combining Polish with Italian, Portuguese or Greek, please contact the Modern Languages Faculty Office. Polish accounts for one third of the course. You can apply to read Polish from scratch or from a more advanced level including post A-level.
If you are planning to apply for Polish you will find it helpful to attend a general Faculty Open Day or a Russian and Slavonic Open Day. For further information go to Open Days. For further details about admissions in general go to Admissions.
On your application form you should specify that you wish to come to Oxford to study for a degree in a language of your choice, say German or Russian, with Polish; or you should apply for the new Russian sole course which has Polish as an integral component at least until the Preliminary Examination at the end of the first year.
The degree course in Polish
The duration of a Modern Languages course in a language with Polish is four years. The emphasis is on language and literature, but there are plenty of opportunities to learn about Polish history and culture too. As numbers in Polish are small there is scope for paying special attention to students’ interests and strengths.
First Year: There will be language tuition tailored towards your level of proficiency. Total beginners are offered language classes from scratch, typically three hours per week. The first year concludes with the Preliminary Examination which includes one Polish language paper.
Second Year: From the second year onwards, in the Final Honour School, we concentrate on three areas in particular: language, literature and linguistics or philology. Language tuition will follow on from your first year and will include areas such as grammar, conversation, translation, prose composition and reading comprehension. We aim to bring students to a good standard of passive and active language skills. The literature course is devoted to Poland’s magnificent literary tradition from the late 18th to the 20th centuries. In parallel to the literary strand of the course, students of Polish also embark on serious linguistic studies. You can choose between two options, either the descriptive analysis of modern Polish or the history of the language. Polish literature and linguistics / philology are taught in a combination of lectures and tutorials. These will be spread out over your second and final years at Oxford.
Third Year: The third year of the course is spent abroad, some (or all) of it in Poland. Typically, students will attend an academic language course offered by Polish universities. We will help you to find the right place to go, and advise you on the funding opportunities available. Immersion in everyday life will contribute to your language skills. Poland is a very hospitable and welcoming country, and it is easy to find friends. Nowadays virtually every university town has a vibrant cultural life, ranging from the opera to diverse forms of youth culture.
Final Year: There will be further, more advanced language tuition in your final year. Depending on how much has been covered during the second year, you will continue the literary and linguistic or philological part of the course. In the final examination there will be a minimum of nine papers, six in your other language and three in Polish: Polish language, Polish literature and history of Polish or descriptive analysis of modern Polish. Beyond these three core components of the Polish degree course, undergraduates in Polish also have the opportunity to choose from a list of special subjects which include Polish post-war literature and comparative Slavonic philology. There is also the option to write an optional extended essay on an approved topic of your choice.
For further details about the Polish course in general, about the content of the three core subjects and the optional subjects available visit main Polish page. For enquiries contact the Modern Languages Faculty Office.
Optional subjects, and Polish for other students in Modern Languages
There are three special optional subjects in Polish, or with a Polish component, which are available to students of Polish as well as to students in Modern Languages other than Polish. These subjects will appeal to students in Russian or Czech, and to undergraduates with an existing knowledge of Polish. For further details visit the main Polish page.
Oxford offers superb library provision. This attracts Slavonicists and Polonists from all over the country. The main holdings are in the Bodleian and the Taylorian. Its Slavonic section houses one of the finest undergraduate libraries and research centres for Slavonic languages anywhere in Britain. In addition, there is a large borrowing library and a very well equipped Language Centre. This has a wide range of textbooks as well as Polish videos, and it provides facilities to watch Polish TV and to listen to Polish radio stations. Through the Language Centre you can also get in contact with Polish students who wish to improve their English in exchange for Polish lessons. Apart from regular lectures, classes and tutorials, there are special lectures, seminars and cultural events on topics related to Poland. Organised by the History Faculty, the Faculty of Modern Languages and by other bodies, they are occasions on which Oxford’s community of students and scholars interested in Poland comes together. There is also a Polish Society at Oxford. It is very active and extremely welcoming to undergraduates and graduates with an interest in Poland and Polish. It is also a good place to meet Polish native speakers. As a member of the small and friendly circle of students in the field of Polish studies at Oxford, there will be many opportunities to come into contact with people sharing your interests, among them native Poles reading for degrees in different subjects.
Graduates often say that more specialized language skills such as Polish inspired a lifelong enthusiasm for the country and its culture. Proficiency in a less commonly taught language such as Polish can be the decisive factor in further studies or for vocational purposes. Future employers often watch out for graduates with an individual and distinct profile. Polish may be precisely that component which draws attention to your CV in the job market. There is a wide range of possible career paths for graduates in Modern Languages with Polish, including journalism, diplomacy, international organizations, business and finance. Given the size and importance of Poland within the European context, continued direct involvement with Poland during their professional lives is frequent among graduates in Polish.
Oxford offers four graduate programmes which, depending on your choice, may include a substantial Polish component, including Polish language, literature, history and society:
- The one-year M.St. and the two-year M.Phil. in Slavonic Studies give students the opportunity to specialize in Polish as their second Slavonic language, and to choose from a range of options including Polish history, literature, linguistics and philology.
- The M.St. and M.Phil. in Medieval and Modern Languages (Literature) allow students to specialize in literary studies, with a compulsory course in literary theory or methodology and a large variety of other options. These can include Polish literature and culture.
- The M.St. and M.Phil. in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology include options in Polish linguistics and philology.
- Finally, there is the one-year M.Sc. and the two-year M.Phil. in Russian and East European Studies. This course has a strong component of history, politics and economics, but also includes a cultural component and literary options.
Oxford also warmly welcomes applications from students who wish to pursue doctoral research in Polish.
Note: Polish language tuition is available for Master’s and for doctoral students whose course or research includes elements in Polish studies.
Over the years there has been a diverse community at Oxford of master’s and doctoral students in the field of Polish studies. The range of topics studied has included:
- medieval Polish history
- 17th-century Polish history
- Polish-German relations
- Polish-Jewish relations and others
Within Modern Languages there have been graduate students working on:
- the poetry of Zbigniew Herbert
- Polish literary theory
- modernist literature from Vilnius (Wilno)
- Polish syntax and other linguistic topics
Polish graduate seminars, special lectures and talks are a regular feature. So are cultural events, such as a reading by the distinguished Polish poet Ewa Lipska, or an afternoon dedicated to the life and work of Witold Gombrowicz.
At Oxford, topics in Polish language and literature are taught and supervised in the wider context of Modern Languages, including Russian, Czech and General Linguistics. Other Faculties provide expertise in Polish history, politics and society. Library holdings are exceptionally strong and include the superb collections in Polish literature, language and history in the Bodleian and Taylorian libraries. Oxford also has a lively network of Polish graduate students organised around the Oxford Polish Society.