What’s it like studying French and Spanish

Eva Opoku

From lectures on 18th Century French Literature to discussions on Latin American politics, the variety of topics available to study in the Modern Langauges and Cultures Department (MLAC) are endless, which is something I love about doing this degree here at Durham. Studying languages has expanded my knowledge on topics I never thought would interest me.

Six languages to choose from

There are six languages to choose from and all of them can be learnt from scratch or, in other words, ab initio. These include Arabic, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Italian. I chose to study French and Spanish post A-Level because I wanted to continue achieving fluency in both languages. However, in first year, you have the option of studying up to three languages! The number of languages you take and whether it’s at a beginner’s or advanced level will determine how many contact hours you have in the week. In my experience, I have ten classes a week, made up of four lectures, two grammar classes, two oral classes, and two seminars, however someone studying a language from scratch may find they have more classes during the week.


A lecture is an informative, weekly class ran by a professor and it’s used to gain information on the topic you’re looking at. The way the information is presented is different for each lecturer; some may opt for video clips or photos however, in my experience, the majority use a PowerPoint presentation. Normally, they don’t tend to be interactive because of how much information the professor has to get through, but sometimes we have small group discussions. When it comes to note taking, I like to type because it’s quick and efficient but other students prefer to handwrite their notes and consolidate them after the lecture.


A seminar is a smaller class, made up of roughly 10-15 students, that focuses on specific areas of the topics from the lecture. Normally, they take place fortnightly. They’re used as a way to discuss and raise questions on things that you’re unsure about but also, what I like about seminars is that it’s a good way of sharing your ideas with others, which is really helpful for exam revision. Sometimes, the lecturer will set some reading for the seminar, which is compulsory, along with a set of questions however, I’ve had classes where no seminar prep was given.

Oral and grammar classes

Oral classes help to develop speaking skills in the language. We also get to learn about different topics from countries that speak that language. In my experience, I have really enjoyed talking about the justice system in Latin American countries and the preservation of French regional languages. In addition, we get a better understanding of certain cultures which could be useful for the Year Abroad (third year).

Grammar lessons work in the same way; they’re used to develop your writing and translation skills whilst improving your exam techniques.

Support within MLAC

What I love about the department is the amount of support they offer. Every professor has office hours which are times you can go and see them to discuss anything you don’t understand and need help with. I’ve found it useful to go over seminar work or essay plans with them, especially in the run up to summative season. Also, each student has an academic advisor that’s there to give you advice and check up with how you’re doing and what you would like to improve, whether that’s within the department or self-improvement.

Discover more

Feeling inspired? Visit our School of Modern Languages and Cultures webpages to learn more about our postgraduate and undergraduate programmes. 

Follow our team of student content creators at The Durham Student on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube

Create your own personalised prospectus here

Eva Opoku

Hi! My name is Eva, and I am a second year at John Snow College studying Modern Languages and Cultures, specifically French and Spanish. I love doing quizzes, cooking, and playing music. Since moving to Durham from my home in Hertfordshire, I have loved going on walks and seeing the lovely nature that Durham has to offer

Related Posts

Our field trip to Armenia

Our field trip began with a range of presentations about the culture, politics and history of Armenia. Developing a deep understanding of their historical and

Read More »