Skip to main content

Many undergraduates who read Spanish at Oxford will also be studying another modern language. It is also possible to study Spanish on its own or in one of the various Joint Schools (with English, History, Philosophy, a classical language, or a Middle-Eastern language). The degree course normally lasts four years and includes a year abroad, which may be spent studying at a university (or teaching English) in Spain or another Spanish-speaking country, or—where you are studying another language— in a country where that language is spoken.

The First-Year (Preliminary) Syllabus

The first-year course is intended to provide preliminary training in the linguistic and literary skills you will need later on in your studies at Oxford. It is designed as a bridge between the work you have done for A-Level and what you will be doing on the Final Honours Course. Unless your other subject of study is a Middle-Eastern language, the examination for which you study in your first three terms in Oxford will be the same, consisting of two language papers and two literature papers.


Most Spanish language teaching is done centrally by the Faculty Spanish Language Instructors, who are always a native speakers of Castilian. There will also be translation classes provided by your college tutor.

There is no officially recommended grammar book for the first-year course but among the better grammars of Spanish for native English speakers is John Butt & Carmen Benjamin, A new reference grammar of modern Spanish, which will be of use to you throughout your time at Oxford. Most undergraduates also choose to have their own dictionary. The Collins Spanish dictionary and the Oxford Spanish dictionary are good bilingual dictionaries; probably the best monolingual dictionary of Spanish is María Moliner, Diccionario de uso del español. Most college libraries have copies of these.


Paper III (Introduction to Hispanic Prose) consists of four major works selected for close study in relation to various possible approaches to literary texts:

(i) Miguel de Cervantes, ‘Rinconete y Cortadillo’ 

(ii) Ana María Matute, Primera memoria 

(iii) Nellie Campobello, Cartucho 

(iv) Alejo Carpentier, El reino de este mundo

In the examination for this Paper, students will be required to answer three questions on three separate texts (i.e. three out of the four possible texts).

Paper IV (Introduction to Hispanic Poetry and Drama) traces the rich history of poetry and theatre in Spanish from the medieval period to the twentieth century. The texts studied are: 

Medieval/Traditional romances:

(i) Anonymous, Romancero viejo 

Golden Age:

(ii) Sonnets by authors such as Garcilaso de la Vega, Luis de Góngora, Francisco de Quevedo and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

(iii) Pedro Calderón de la Barca, El médico de su honra 

Modern period:

(iv) Federico García Lorca, Doña Rosita la soltera

(v) César Vallejo, Los heraldos negros 

For the Paper IV examination, students will be required to answer three questions: one question from each section (medieval, Golden Age, Modern), with a choice between two passages in each case (passages will be ‘paired’).

These two literature papers are designed to introduce you to the rich variety of literature written in Spanish. Apart from their intrinsic interest, a knowledge of them will enable you to make more informed choices when you come to make a decision about which periods and authors you wish to study later in your course. They will also help familiarize you with the language of different periods and registers and with ways of approaching the study of literary texts. In the course of your first year there will be lectures on all the literary works studied for the Spanish Preliminary Examination.

During the first three terms of your course you will write essays for your College Tutor on all four works studied in Paper III and on the various authors and periods covered by Paper IV. You will also be taught in College classes how to tackle a literary commentary.

If you are studying Spanish on its own, there are additional papers in film, medieval literature, and the short story.

Final Honours School (second to fourth years)

This is NOT a full account of the rules about choices and combinations of options for the Honours course. When candidates arrive in Oxford, they will familiarize themselves with a Course handbook and the university's Examination statutes, both of which set out all the Honours courses in full. What follows is a brief introduction to the course content, so that you can see what will be on offer.


After the Preliminary Examination, tuition is provided to enable you to improve the whole range of your linguistic skills. You attend translation classes in which you refine your ability to render passages of various registers of literary Spanish into English and vice-versa; those classes are complemented by grammar tuition by a native speaker of Castilian. In addition, conversation classes are offered every term until the end of your course by a native speaker. 

There are options within the syllabus for the study of Castilian language, linguistics, and philology as academic subjects in their own right.

The Sub-Faculty of Spanish also offers you the opportunity to study languages spoken in Spain other than Castilian. Reflecting modern developments in that country, we provide classes in Galician and Catalan taught by trained native speakers of those languages. In your Final exams you can opt to take papers in Catalan or Galician language and/or literature. Students also often take the opportunity to study one or both of these languages just for fun.

In your Final exams you will take the following two language papers in Castilian:

Paper I. Translation from English into Castilian of two passages of modern English prose; and

Paper II. Translation from Castilian into English of two passages of modern Castilian prose.

There is also an oral examination, for which teaching is provided on a regular basis.


Linguistics —the academic study of language as such— offers you the opportunity to branch out from the two areas of study that undergraduates encounter during the first-year course: literature and the practical study of the language. The study of Linguistics teaches you to be conscious of how languages in general, and Spanish in particular, construct a complex system from simple principles.

In the Oxford course, Spanish Linguistics are taught within the Paper V


There are six literature papers available on the Spanish Honours course (how many you take will depend on whether you are also studying another language or subject at university, but you will not take them all). They fall into two categories: periods of literature and prescribed authors/texts.

The period of literature papers are:

Paper VI. Spanish literature to 1499;

Paper VII. Spanish literature 1543–1695; and

Paper VIII. Spanish and/or Spanish-American literature from 1811 to the present.

The prescribed authors/texts papers are:

Paper IX. Three medieval texts: Poema de mio Cid; Juan Ruiz, Libro de buen amor; and Fernando de Rojas, Comedia de Calisto y Melibea (the work usually known as La Celestina);

Paper X. Two authors to be chosen from: Calderón, Cervantes, Garcilaso de la Vega, Góngora, Quevedo, Sor Juana; and

Paper XI. Two authors to be chosen from: Galdós, Valle-Inclán, Lorca, Marías, Neruda, Borges, Cortázar, Vargas Llosa, García Márquez, and Darío. 

There is one further paper (Paper XII), which offers the chance to study a wide range of linguistic, literary, or cultural topics (including cinema), some specifically Spanish, some related to other languages, and yet others that are not language-specific.

For each of Papers IV to XI you will be taught in a combination of lectures, tutorials, and (in some cases) seminars. The core of the teaching of each paper will be a series of tutorials, typically between eight and twelve per paper. Subjects are tested either by written examination at the end of your final year, or by coursework submitted during your final year. 

You may elect to write a dissertation (Paper XIV) on the topic of your choice.

More detail will be provided on each of these papers once you begin your studies at Oxford, or can be obtained by writing to the faculty.

Year Abroad

Under normal circumstances, we encourage all our students to spend as much time as they can in Spain or Spanish America, and to opt for the four-year course which has a compulsory (third) year abroad. If you are reading another language with Spanish, you may choose to spend the year abroad in a country where that other language is spoken.

If you choose to spend that year in a Spanish-speaking country, you can apply to be an English-language assistant in a Spanish or Spanish American school, you can enrol at a university in Spain or a Spanish American country, or you can organize employment or some other way of spending your year in a Spanish-speaking country, as long as your College approves of your arrangements.