I applied to study Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge University in October 2016, as well as French and Latin courses at Durham, Exeter, Edinburgh and St. Andrews.
The MML degree course allows students to select two different languages and, as one of my languages was ancient, I had to appeal to both the Classics and MML departments in my Personal Statement. I received offers from all five of my universities.
A student breaks their personal statement down into parts, analysing each section as they go so you can learn from their experience.
Teaching children in my weekly Latin club has given me the opportunity to see the foundations of a language being set. I have relished demonstrating how to assemble the fundamental blocks of a language into complex sentences and illustrating the linguistic patterns which emerge.
In order to make the opening lines eye-catching, start with something unique about you. It could be an interesting personal reason why you chose your subject, or something which not many other candidates will have done (i.e. running a Latin club.)
For me, the joy of language lies in this puzzle of translation. Each line of poetry or prose requires a mind that can commit to memory and apply grammatical rules with mathematical precision, yet still appreciate the nuances and stylistic manipulation that make a language unique. I have the linguistic flexibility necessary to comprehend and compose French, whilst the analytical skills taught in Maths have instilled in me the rigour and grammatical accuracy required of an inflected language such as Latin. It was this meticulousness which enabled me to achieve full UMS in my Latin Language, French oral and two Maths modules. I have also extended my range of languages by attending the JACT Ancient Greek Summer School and completing an online course in Italian; two languages which I was curious to find as equally contrasting in structure as Latin and French.
Your reasons for applying for your subject should be made clear early on in your PS. This will probably be the section where you are able to convey the most passion for your subject.
Here I also explain why I have chosen my two languages in particular; for courses where you’ve chosen a combination of subjects it’s important to justify why this mix appeals to you.
I mention my other A Level subject and demonstrate how it is relevant to this course. Everything needs to be tailored to prove that you are an excellent candidate for the specific subject(s) for which you are applying.
I also go into detail about my AS results in this section to demonstrate my aptitude for these subjects. Note that universities will receive your grades but not your UMS scores.
This section is about my skill for languages in general. In the next couple of paragraphs I discuss each language separately. It’s important to keep your PS clearly structured in this way, especially when applying for two different subjects.
When exploring a language, a study of the culture will naturally follow. I became captivated by French culture when I read Philippe Delerm's 'La Premiere Gorgee de Biere.' I found the French language, with its languid vowel sounds and euphonic rhythm, was the perfect medium for Delerm's sensory descriptions. In the same way, the lavish descriptive passages in Flaubert's 'Madame Bovary' convey the wild romanticism of Emma's aspirations, as well as the monotony and claustrophobia of provincial life, far more effectively than any translation. In contrast, the harsh vernacular used in Faiza Guene's 'Kiffe Kiffe Demain' and films such as 'La Vie d'Adele' and 'La Haine' enhances the realism of these powerful stories.
Here I mention the ways I’ve explored the French culture. Note that I don’t just list the books I’ve read, but instead reflect on each one, mentioning what I found interesting.
In this paragraph, I comment on the importance of the French language in each of the books and films mentioned. Try to link examples in this way, looking for a theme that runs throughout or perhaps a contrast between two narratives. This makes the PS seem more natural and fluent, as well as demonstrating your ability to process and apply your knowledge independently.
As an Auschwitz ambassador, I have learnt the critical importance of cultural connection, a technique the Holocaust Educational Trust uses to reverse the dehumanisation of the Jews. I feel the same connection when examining any society's literature, ancient or modern. Reading of the longing of Propertius for his Cynthia or Catullus' bitter affection for the unfaithful Lesbia, the humanity of their experiences is strikingly contemporary. From the colourful history disclosed by Tacitus to the hilarity of the 'Lysistrata' or the wickedness of the 'Amores,' the sentiments expressed by the ancients remain just as appealing and relevant in the modern day. Indeed, one only needs to turn to the rhetoric of hate surrounding the US Presidential Election to find the merciless invective characteristic of a Juvenalian satire.
Whilst reading Satire VI, I was struck by how the innuendo exclusively used to describe women in the past remains largely unchanged in the modern media. I also came to this conclusion whilst conducting research for my voluntary EPQ. For example, the Latin word 'docta,' the feminine form of clever, previously used to denote something far less respectable than intelligence, to me seemed all too similar to modern day articles which euphemistically described Hilary Clinton as 'a woman of experience.'
This paragraph covers my reading for my second language: Latin.
Here I link in my experience as an Auschwitz ambassador (which is seemingly irrelevant to a languages degree) to demonstrate how it has furthered my enthusiasm for the subject.
Again, I don’t just list my reading here but illustrate what I’ve learnt from it.
My course was one where it was possible for me to be called to an interview so I left ‘hooks’ in my PS that I thought would make good discussion material later. I was later asked to expand on the point about Hillary Clinton and my EPQ topic at my interview.
Mentioning current affairs (and how your subject links to them) demonstrates that you can see the importance of your subject in the wider world. You should also offer your own opinion, because this will make your PS stand out as unique.
My French film club has exposed fellow pupils to a broad range of films, from the deeply moving 'Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon' to the bittersweet 'Persepolis.' I founded the Latin Society and led several Classics days for local primary schools as well as inviting the classicist and author Natalie Haynes to lecture. I play grade 8 flute and 6 piano, exploring French culture through music, with a repertoire including Faure, Chaminade and Gaubert. I lead the Debating Society and was awarded Best Speaker in the countywide round of the ESU Public Speaking Competition, for a speech entitled 'Can Language Change the World?'
This section covers my extracurricular activities. Note that each one is still linked to my academic studies. This shows an admissions tutor that you are constantly thinking about your subject and how it relates to the world around you.
I truly value the power of the spoken and written word so it is therefore a natural progression for me to study a subject by which I'm so captivated.
Finally, the concluding line should sum up the PS and your reason for applying (so that you avoid finishing on the extracurriculars section.)