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Modern Languages and LinguisticsPart of Humanities

Who we are

We are one of the leading centres for modern languages and linguistics in the UK, with a fresh approach to language study and academics who are actively involved in research.


Our rankings

Southampton is consistently highly ranked for Modern Languages and Linguistics in The Guardian University Guide, appearing in the top 5 departments in the UK every year between 2007 and 2017. Languages have been an important part of the University of Southampton since its beginnings in the nineteenth century, and especially since the University received its Royal Charter in 1952.

Our reputation attracts the very best academic talent, which means our students learn from staff who are highly experienced and engaged in the most innovative research in their field.

We offer distinctive degree programmes that are quite different in outlook from many narrower and more traditional modern language degrees. We take the business of learning foreign languages very seriously and aim to make all our graduates highly proficient linguists, capable of working in a wide range of challenging careers at an international level. We also offer an exceptionally broad array of courses, including linguistic studies, film and television studies, social and political studies and literary studies.

A characteristic feature of our programmes is the emphasis on choice. With guidance from your academic advisor, you can decide whether to specialise in one area or go for a more general coverage of different subjects.

Everyone can learn a language at Southampton

The Centre for Language Study provides a wide range of opportunities for language learning. You can learn Catalan, French, German, Italian, Latin, Portuguese and Spanish. The Centre's English Language section also runs year-round courses for international students.

Southampton also hosts the UK Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies, part of the Higher Education Academy.


Our history

Languages were a part of the curriculum from the start of the Hartley Institution, which was opened by Lord Palmerston in Southampton in 1862. French was one of the first two subjects to be taught, followed soon after by German and then Spanish. Throughout the 19th century, most of the teaching was provided on a part-time basis by foreign nationals living locally. The first full-time post was held by Dr E. Du Bois, who was appointed in July 1896 as lecturer in French and German and subsequently promoted to professor.

In 1914, the University College, as it then was, created a Chair of Romance Languages, whose first occupant was Dr Vivian G. Starkey. By all accounts he was an inspiring teacher and enthusiastic researcher, but his career was cut short when he was among the first volunteers to enlist in the Great War. He was posted to France in August 1915, and was killed in action in the following October. His colleague in German Mr E.W. Patchett, was on vacation in Heidelberg when the war broke out and he was interned in Germany for the duration.

Professor Patchett, took up the Chair of Modern Languages on his return after the war and when he died in 1936, the department had become recognised as one of the best of its kind in English provincial universities. His successor, Professor Dr H.W. Lawton, was Head of Modern Languages throughout the difficult years of the Second World War, when Southampton was heavily bombed. He played a leading role in the Development Committee of Senate, set up in 1941 to plan the College’s post-war expansion and policy.

The University of Southampton received its Royal Charter in 1952. Shortly before this, separate departments of French and German were created, followed soon after by a department of Spanish. As the University grew, degrees in Italian and Russian were introduced, though they were later withdrawn during the retrenchment of the 1980s. A Language Centre was added in 1976 to meet the demand for languages among students in the sciences and social sciences and to provide support in the use of English language for the growing number of international students.

In 1983, the three departments and the Language Centre came together to form a federal School of Modern Languages, which became a unified department in 1996, when it moved to its present premises at the newly opened Avenue Campus. The Centre for Language Study was established within the department to provide professional language teaching for all students, both in languages degrees and in other subjects.

Research centres were established shortly afterwards in Transnational Studies and in Applied Language Studies, bringing together interdisciplinary research work. Southampton took a lead in promoting languages across the UK by hosting the government funded Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (2000-11) and Routes into Languages programme (2006-16). A research Centre for Global Englishes was established in 2011.


Over more than a century, languages have been taught by a large number of distinguished scholars and educators, and numbers of students have grown steadily. Today, Modern Languages and Linguistics is one of the largest units in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, with more than 150 staff during the year and a further 200 to support the summer programmes

We teach popular undergraduate programmes in which students can select from a range of nine languages in many combinations, including the innovative M.Lang integrated Masters. We have a strong research and postgraduate community in French, German and Hispanic cultural studies and in English language and Applied Linguistics. We offer a comprehensive programme of language learning through the Centre for Language Study, including a well-provided Language Resources Centre, which specialises in supporting independent learning. Our Lifelong Learning programme provides extra-curricular teaching in some 12 languages. We have a dynamic programme of work in distance learning and professional development, especially in English language teaching, which includes a several Masters programmes and a growing pre-sessional course. We have strong local links in the city and in the wider Wessex region, and we work with a wide range of partners internationally. There are particularly strong ties in Europe and growing partnerships in South Asia (working with the Southampton Confucius Institute) and in Latin America (including an energetic Centre for Mexico-Southampton Collaboration).

Unique to Southampton

We offer a language learning programme based on your level of ability, not on your year of study. Read more about our seven stages of proficiency on our course pages.

Outstanding academics

Our academics' wide range of interests means we can offer a rich and varied curriculum.

Undergraduate study


Modern Languages and Linguistics at Southampton ranks third in the Russell Group (the UK's 20 leading research-intensive universities) for student satisfaction.

Postgraduate study


Continue your studies with us for a masters or PhD and benefit from the experience and knowledge of our academics, who are at the leading edge of their fields.

Research in Mexico

World Leading Research

Our research crosses many boundaries, between languages, between cultures and between disciplines. We believe that new knowledge and new insights come at the intersections, outside traditional comfort zones.

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