Oxford University
Language Centre

The Oxford University Programme in Languages - The OPAL programme

Currently offered:

Arabic / Chinese / French / German / Italian / Japanese / Russian / Spanish


Guide to OPAL for applicants

Please read this guide before submitting an application form to join a course within OPAL.


What is OPAL?

What sort of courses are they?

Are courses offered at all levels for each language?

When are the classes held?

Do courses last the whole year?

How do I register for an OPAL course?

How can I be sure which level I should register for?

Am I eligible to apply & how do you select applicants for places?

How much do they cost?

Is there support for students or staff?

How do I obtain a certificate?


What is OPAL?

OPAL is a fee-paying, late-afternoon/early-evening programme of courses in Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish offering a Certificate of Achievement on successful completion. The programme lasts the whole academic year and will appeal to those who are looking for a small, stable class (average 12) of highly motivated and well-organised language learners, willing and able to put in substantial time and effort into making rapid progress in the target language.

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What sort of courses are they?

The courses are designed to develop participants' competence in reading, writing, speaking and listening at a variety of entry levels: Basic (beginners), Elementary (post-beginners, CEFR A1), Threshold (rusty GCSE and lower intermediate, CEFR A2), Vantage (post-GCSE/AS, good intermediate, Bridge (CEFR B1), Higher (A level, higher intermediate, CEFR B2) and Proficiency (post A-level and advanced, CEFR C1). The specific aims of the programme are:

1. to develop language and communication skills of practical value to participants at each level.
2. to provide a sound grammatical and lexical base for the study and use of the target language at each level.
3. to develop participants' understanding and appreciation of the target language culture and civilisation.
4. to develop participants' language learning skills.
5. to encourage enjoyment and intellectual stimulation as a basis for further study of the target language.
6. to enhance transferable skills of general value to participants.

Each course consists of a taught thirty-hour component in Michaelmas and Hilary Terms, starting in Week 2 of Michaelmas. A final examination takes place in Week 2 of Trinity Term, followed by project-based work for up to 4 weeks. Tutorials or workshops will be arranged on an individual or group basis during Trinity Term.

The content of the courses is based on coursebooks together with supplementary material prepared by the language tutors. A substantial amount of independent study will be expected, as will at least 80% attendance in classes. Courses in different languages at the same level aim to cover similar ground in terms of grammar, spoken and written language, and topics. At Higher level course in French, for example, areas covered will include:

Grammar: revision of all major tenses and the subjunctive mood, passive voice, pronouns, formation of adjectives, adverbs, comparatives, use of prepositions, time expressions.

Speaking: guided spoken expression for academic, work and leisure contact (e.g. giving presentations, informal interviews, applying for jobs), expressing opinions, tastes and preferences, expressing cause, consequence and purpose.

Writing: guided letter writing for academic and work contact, summaries and short essays.

Listening: listening practice of recorded materials (e.g. news broadcasts, telephone messages, interviews), developing listening comprehension strategies.

Topics (with related readings and vocabulary): life, work and culture, the media, social and political systems, film, theatre and music, sports and related topics.

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Are courses offered at all levels for each language?

No. This year, we are offering French, German, Italian and Spanish at five levels. Arabic, Chinese and Japanese are offered at Basic, Elementary, Threshold, Vantage and Bridge levels. Russian is offered at Basic, Elementary, Threshold and Vantage levels.

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When are the classes held?

In the early evening, 18.00-20.00 (Friday 17.00-19.00), or late afternoon (16.00 - 18.00) where more than one class is offered at that level. Each class lasts two hours and is held once a week. Classes are held on Monday to Friday during Michaelmas and Hilary Terms.

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Do courses last the whole year?

Yes. Classes begin in Week 2 (week commencing 20th October) of Michaelmas Term and continue until the end of Hilary Term. In Trinity Term, following the examination in Week 2, learners work on individual projects and contact with class tutors will be on an individual or group basis in workshops or short tutorials. Please note: The Trinity Term examination in Week 2 and the project times may take place on a different day or time to the normal class times during Michaelmas and Hilary Terms.

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How do I register for an OPAL course?

Registration takes place from 6th - 15th October, in Michaelmas Term. You will need to complete the online OPAL registration form no later than 12.00 on Wednesday, 15th October. The form is available on this page. Applications will not be considered after this time unless there are places available on a course.

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How can I be sure which level I should register for?

Please look at the course descriptions on the website for individual languages (which list entry levels on the ALTE European Framework). You can also try the on-line placement test designed for the LASR Programme (Languages for Study and Research). You can obtain advice on the equivalent level for OPAL. For Japanese, please refer to the explanation of the placement tests.

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Am I eligible to apply & how do you select applicants for places?

OPAL courses are open to students and staff of Oxford University, and spouses of University members. Applicants are selected according to the criteria of motivation, evidence of language learning ability, and willingness to commit themselves to the effort required to complete the courses successfully. A personal statement forms part of the application form. Some applicants may be interviewed before being accepted. Quotas for different staff and student groups within the University apply, in order to ensure that all members of the University have an opportunity to join OPAL.

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How much do they cost?

The fee for each OPAL course for University and College members is £215 for Michaelmas and Hilary Term tuition, plus £60 for the examination, project work and assessment in Trinity Term. You will also need to buy the set textbook for your course costing between £20 and £35. For Academic Visitors, members of Associated Institutions and spouses / partners of University / College members, the fee is £265 and the examination fee is £70. This fee includes one year's membership of the Language Library. If payment is not received by the end of Week 3 of term (November 1st) at the latest, we reserve the right to take you off the course and offer a place to applicants on the waiting list. The Trinity Term fee must be paid when you register for the Trinity Term final examination.

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Is there support for students or staff?

Yes. The tuition fee for Michaelmas and Hilary terms is payable in full when you are accepted for an OPAL course. However, most colleges have agreed to reimburse part of the fees for students on successful completion. Please see your college secretary or administrator about arrangements in your college before completing the application form. Some departments will also contribute to the fee for staff members. Please also read carefully the OPAL reimbursement form, which gives clearer guidelines of the procedure. You can find the OPAL college reimbursement form on the bottom of this page.
Important Information regarding the reimbursement process: You must seek signature of approval from your college senior tutor at the beginning of the year to ensure that they will reimburse some of the fee at the end of Trinity term (upon successful completion of the full course of 3 terms), we hold the form only as confirmation that you have the approval. Upon successful completion of the course in Trinity – and upon receipt of the certificate, YOU should approach your college for reimbursement. We do not seek the reimbursement on your behalf. It is up to you to action it. This will be at the end of Trinity term. The fees must have been paid fully by yourself at the start of the course, and you should keep a note of your receipt number in case your college needs it as further proof of payment.

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How do I obtain a certificate?

On successful completion of an OPAL course, you will be awarded an Oxford University Language Centre Certificate at the appropriate level. Your progress is assessed through a test in Week 8 of Michaelmas Term, an examination in Week 1 of Trinity Term and a project or agreed alternative to be presented in Week 5 or 6, sometimes earlier, of Trinity Term. There is an 80% attendance requirement.NB: The final examination cannot be taken any later than Week 2 of Trinity, and the project presentation no later than Week 6 under any circumstances. If you know you are not going to be available during these times, please contact Sarah Cook at opal@lang.ox.ac.uk to discuss options.

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OPAL College Reimbursement Form

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