Yale Takes Stock of Its Foreign Language Assets

The breadth and depth of foreign language study at Yale has made the University a leader in the field, and Yale has strengthened its commitment to language education in the era of globalization. As President Richard C. Levin has said, “The command of foreign languages is essential for many fields of study and, indeed, for full citizenship in the modern world.”

Instruction in more than 50 foreign languages is currently offered at Yale through a wide variety of courses employing innovative learning methods.

The foreign language requirement at Yale College is one of the most rigorous among its peer institutions. To satisfy the requirement, students must complete four semesters of study in one of 27 selected languages. If students seek to fulfill the foreign language requirement in a language they already understand, they must pass a fourth semester-level course in that language or start a new language in which they successfully complete a third semester-level course. Students who enter Yale with high Advanced Placement scores or who place out of the intermediate level of a language (the equivalent of four semesters of study at Yale) must take at least one advanced-level course in the foreign language they know or complete a second semester-level course in a new language.

Yale’s Center for Language Study (CLS) is a resource for all instructors teaching foreign languages. In addition to providing the technological services needed by language teachers and learners, the CLS holds seminars, demonstrations and workshops, sponsors speakers, funds travel by faculty and language-teaching graduate students and provides both training and funding for language faculty who want to integrate technology into their teaching.

CLS runs the Directed Independent Language Study program, which allows students who have particular needs related to research, study, volunteer work abroad or career preparation to study languages for which Yale has no faculty. Students in the special program are provided with books and audio material, meet twice a week with a native speaker of the language they are studying, and pass a final proficiency test.

While constantly improving language instruction at Yale, programs developed at the CLS have wider application for language study generally. With a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, CLS is creating web-based templates for teachers to develop instructional materials for any language. The templates in production are already being used by Yale language faculty. The CLS will eventually license the templates to other institutions and will manage the publication of language-specific collections of materials developed by faculty with the templates.

Foreign languages at Yale are taught by 10 different academic departments—Classics (Latin and Ancient Greek), East Asian Languages and Literatures (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean), French, German (German and Yiddish), Italian, Linguistics (Sanskrit and Pali), Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (Arabic, Hebrew, Hittite, Persian, Turkish, Coptic, Middle Egyptian, Syriac); Slavic Languages and Literatures (Czech, Russian, Serbian/Croatian) and Spanish and Portuguese—and four area studies councils, under the aegis of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies: African Studies (Kiswahili, Yoruba, Zulu), European Studies (Modern Greek), South Asian Studies (Hindi, Tamil) and Southeast Asian Studies (Indonesian, Vietnamese).

In addition to the languages listed above, foreign language instruction includes dialects and languages native to Africa (Afrikaans, Amharic, Kikuyu, Sesotho, Shona and Tigrinya) and ancient languages such as Akkadian, Old Church Slavic, Old Norse, Old Persian and Ugaritic. Yale also has the distinction of being the first university in the United States to offer Sanskrit.
Beyond foreign language instruction, Yale encourages students to improve their language skills by living among native speakers. Students are expected to spend at least one summer or semester studying or working in a foreign country, and Yale provides financial aid to ensure that all students may take advantage of opportunities abroad.

Finally, Yale University Press is one of the leading publishers of textbooks and other materials for foreign language instruction. The long list of books and multi-media products put out by the Press includes texts for those less commonly taught languages—Arabic, Farsi (Persian), Chinese and Russian—that President Bush described as “critical” in announcing his National Security Language Initiative. Yale Press also publishes texts by leading scholars that integrate the study of language with its literature and broader culture.

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Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345