Accessibility statement

students chatting on bench

What is Ab Initio?

If you want to pursue a language degree in a language that you haven't had the opportunity to study to A-level standard, an Ab Initio Language Programme is an effective and attractive language course for you. The Ab Initio programme is available for all the languages we teach at degree level, French, German, Italian and Spanish. Ab Initio leads to the same level of language proficiency as language programmes requiring an A-level. We accept students who have no prior knowledge, a GCSE, an AS-level or possibly an international qualification in the language that is not comparable to an A-level.

A degree programme with

  • a very intensive and fast paced first year
  • a high number of contact hours
  • well-structured independent learning opportunities
  • individualised learning support

This programme allows students to join the post A-level cohort from the second year onward.

Ab Initio teaching

Ab Initio teaching

There are 6 contact hours per week over three modules:

  • Ab Initio Language and Society
  • Ab Initio Language Skills 
  • Ab Initio Grammar

These modules are intended to develop language skills at a quick pace and introduce the structures, lexicon and skills necessary to communicate in the foreign language, as well as some aspects of society and culture.

Aims and learning outcomes

  • to enable students to increasingly use the target language as a way to communicate in the classroom. For this purpose, we use carefully designed activities and materials to support the learning process
  • to increase intercultural awareness and introduce students to the study of the societies and cultures where the languages are spoken
  • to facilitate and support the development of time management and independent study skills
  • to prepare students for the transition into the second year when they join the post A-Level cohort


"I feel that by having to learn a whole new language it has improved my time management skills because of the course content and that skill has been transferred to my other modules as well."

"I like the way it is taught, in a fun, friendly and engaging way."

Learning support

Learning support

Ab Initio students receive a lot of support with their language learning and are encouraged to reflect on their progress on a regular basis.

Support opportunities include

  • Peer Assisted Learning (PAL): all Ab Initio students are mentored by second year students who are good role models and will be able to give advice on language learning
  • regular progress and feedback sessions to help students reflect on their work
  • opportunities for individual meetings with your tutors
  • regular supervision: every student in York has an academic supervisor who can guide students’ choices and help with general learning advice
  • drop in sessions in the Languages Hub: an opportunity to get individual language learning advice from a tutor
  • skills training sessions on research skills, essay writing, presentation skills, etc.


"The mentoring sessions were extremely useful. Tutors are understanding and always happy to help."

"The enthusiastic and encouraging tutors have been really supportive and an essential part of my learning experience. Their advice has inspired me to push myself and create my own opportunities to improve my skills. Overall, I think that encouragement is a really important part of ab initio success."

What our students say

What our students say

"I didn't really know what to expect when starting the course but I am really surprised and happy that after 1 year of learning, I was able to integrate into a class of students with much more experience. I thought there would be a much bigger gap between us than there is."

"I knew the course would be very challenging, but I believe the class has been well taught and the topics covered have been interesting."

"Having never done Spanish before University, I am amazed that after a year and a half I am at the level of Spanish I am at."

"I feel like I have achieved a lot over a short space, as before I came to York I had had no experience with the language."

"… the Ab Initio course was intensive with more and longer seminars; this was helpful because we covered a lot of material in a short time. I feel that because we had more contact with our tutors, this created a more relaxed atmosphere and learning was enjoyable and fun."