Undergraduate Studies

Most undergraduates coming up to 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 consists of four major works selected for close study in relation to various possible approaches to literary texts: Calderón, El médico de su honra, a play written by one of the best-known Spanish dramatists of the seventeenth century; Cervantes, Rinconete y Cortadillo, a short story from his Novelas ejemplares collection of 1612; Machado, Campos de Castilla, a collection of poetry by one of Spain’s best-known poets of the first half of the twentieth century; and Vargas Llosa, La Fiesta del Chivo, a novel written by one of the major living Spanish American writers.

In the examination for this Paper you will be asked to translate into English a short passage from one of the above texts, write a literary commentary on a passage selected from another, and also write two essays on two separate texts.

Paper IV traces the history of the Spanish ballad tradition from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. The examples prescribed are studied in relation to general trends in literature or thought and also to historical background. You will study ballads from the Middle Ages (the romancero viejo), the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Lope, Quevedo, and Góngora), the nineteenth century (Rivas) and the twentieth (Machado and Lorca).

In the examination for this Paper you may choose to write either three essays, or a literary commentary on a sample ballad and two essays.

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, from 2018 there will be additional papers in film, medieval literature, and the short story.

Syllabus Outline

This is NOT a full account of the rules about choices and combinations of options for the Honours course. When you come up to Oxford, you will be issued with a Course handbook and a copy of 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. In your fourth year a permanent member of the Sub-Faculty and one of our native speakers of Castilian will together provide a series of classes to guide you in translation and in the art of writing essays in Spanish.

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, where the autonomous regions have in recent years become important politically and culturally, 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.

You may also choose to offer a third language paper:

Paper III. Essay in Castilian.

There is also a compulsory 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.

There are two linguistics papers available to anyone offering Spanish as part of an Honours course:

Paper IV. The history of the Spanish language to 1700; and

Paper V. The linguistic analysis of contemporary Spanish as spoken in Spain and the Americas.

In addition, there is an optional linguistics paper designed for those studying only Spanish at Finals:

Paper XIII. General Linguistics.


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: Cervantes, Garcilaso de la Vega, Góngora, Quevedo, and Calderón; and

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

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

Paper XII. Special Subject.

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. All these subjects are tested by written examination at the end of your final year, though you may elect to write an Extended Essay in lieu of the written examination on Paper XII.

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, or 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.

Subscribe to Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages