Information for Prospective Students

Modern & Medieval Languages

Information for Prospective Students


Applying for a place

Inside and outside the Faculty  

Written test for MML admissions


This written test will be taken by applicants, in the College by which they are being interviewed, while they are in Cambridge for their interviews. (Applicants with disabilities or special learning needs are asked to inform the College so that they can take the test in an appropriate form). There is no expectation that applicants will have practised this kind of exercise before. The test has been designed so that anyone who has already practised it will not be at any great advantage. The test forms just one small part of the overall assessment of applicants (based on your written application, your school/college record, interviews, etc.): even if you do not do particularly well at this written test, it is perfectly possible for you still to be offered a place.

Applicants are asked to read a brief passage in English (300-350 words) and then to answer two or three questions about it. They will write their answer in a target language that they are studying at A-level (A2) or equivalent and that they are applying to study at Cambridge University. The questions will contain an element of comprehension but will also invite applicants to add ideas of their own. In other words, the exercise is a combination of comprehension and free composition. The purpose is to see how applicants write in the foreign language: i.e. it assesses their grammar, their accuracy, their ability to express ideas, and their vocabulary, though they are not expected to know the exact foreign-language term for each English term in the passage.


You have 45 minutes to complete this exercise.

Please read carefully the following passage and then write a single short essay which answers all the questions below. Please make your essay a total of 200-250 words long, no more and no less. Please answer in ONE of the modern languages that you are applying to study here, i.e. in a language that you are studying or have studied at A-level (A2) or equivalent. If you are studying at A-level (A2) or equivalent both of the languages that you wish to study here, then you're free to choose which of those two languages to write in.

The purpose of the exercise is for us to see how you write in the foreign language, to assess your grammar, your accuracy, your ability to express ideas, and your vocabulary, though we don't expect you to know the exact foreign-language term for each English term in the passage.

Problems of Translation

Of the 325 million Harry Potter books sold around the world, some 100 million copies don’t contain a single line of JK Rowling’s prose. They’re mediated by the work of other writers who set the tone, create suspense and humour, and give the characters their distinctive voices and accents. The only thing these translators have no impact on whatsoever is the plot, which of course is Rowling’s alone. The moment Bloomsbury put out their next press release announcing that Rowling has delivered book seven and the publication date has been set, more than 60 translators across the world – from Europe to South America, Africa to Asia – will start sharpening their pencils. So – you’re an official HP translator, and you’ve managed somehow to grapple with the odd title of book seven (a good version of Deathly Hallows, anyone?). And now Amazon has delivered your copy of the Most Anticipated Book Ever, and it’s your job to render it into some other language to appease a hungry local audience somewhere. How do you start? You start, probably, with the eternal problem faced by every translator – finding the balance between literal fidelity and the equivalence that makes for fidelity of reading experience. When Uncle Vernon hums ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’, do you let him keep his Anglophone song and just translate the title? Harry’s Spanish uncle hums ‘De puntillas entre los tulipanes’. Or do you find a local equivalent, like Germany’s Onkel Vernon, who goes for the rather more German folk-hum, ‘Bi-Ba-Butzemann’? Harry Potter throws at his translators (or in some cases, teams of translators) a number of challenges that most books don’t present. There are countless made-up words, for a start. What’s the Turkish for ‘golden snitch’, or the Hungarian for ‘Bludger’, or the Welsh for ‘Quaffle’, the Catalan for ‘Sickles and Knuts’, or the Hindi for ‘Floo Powder’? The job of any translator requires that they be simultaneously present and absent; altogether sympathetically embedded in the work and yet totally invisible. Whatever some may say, this is no ordinary translation job; and sometime very soon the whole circus will start all over again.

Adapted from Daniel Hahn, ‘¿Hagrid, qué es el quidditch?’,The Guardian 27th January 2007

Please answer all the following questions in a single essay of 200-250 words. Remember: Don't write in English!

  • What sort of problems are faced by translators of the Harry Potter books?
  • Is it fair to describe a translator as an author?