10 Most Innovative Colleges for Foreign Language Study

As the world becomes increasingly connected, knowing how to speak two or more languages is a skill that’s in growing demand no matter where you live – Hawaii, New York, California. Whether you choose to major in a language, minor in one, or just take a load of language classes in college, there are some schools that offer experiences that are unique, innovative, or just plain awesome for foreign language learners. While we couldn’t highlight every great foreign language program out there, here are a few we think stand out from the crowd, offering students a chance to learn rare languages, immerse themselves in a new culture and language, or even blend language learning with dormitory life.

  1. Middlebury College:

    Middlebury College, located in Vermont, offers a number of outstanding programs and opportunities for students looking to learn a language but perhaps the most notable are the Language Schools. Starting in 1915, the school began offering language learning programs over the summer and today provides instruction in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Students must take a language pledge stating that they’ll use the language of their course exclusively during the duration of the program. Middlebury is also the only school in the U.S. to offer a Doctor of Modern Languages degree, which requires fluency in two foreign languages, and one of the few schools to offer a graduate degree in language translation and interpretation, offering some innovative ways for students to pursue their love of languages.

  2. University of Wisconsin-Madison:

    The University of Wisconsin-Madison is a leader in foreign language education and research and boasts some of the most prestigious departments of languages and literature in the world. Students can enroll in courses in dozens of modern and ancient languages and take part in study abroad programs to more than 100 different destinations on six continents. The school is also home to some other pretty amazing language-learning resources, including the Language Institute, which offers unique opportunities for research, cultural outreach, and language building.

  3. University of California, Los Angeles:

    UCLA is a great place for language learners to embrace their passion. The school currently offers 40 modern languages and more than 40 ancient languages, though not all languages are offered each semester. Perhaps one of the most unique things about UCLA’s language learning programs is their willingness to embrace modern ways of teaching languages, as evidenced by the New Language Classroom Project. Students have access to numerous resources when learning a language, both online and off. Through the school’s website, it’s simple to download or use podcasts, YouTube videos, and audio files for language learning, and the Language Materials Project contains teaching and learning resources for more than 100 less commonly taught languages.

  4. Stanford University:

    At Stanford, language learning is focused on practical skills, and students can expect their education to revolve around activities that engage them in speaking, reading, and listening to a language in a real-world setting. At present, Stanford offers 14 common modern languages and 30 less commonly taught languages like Basque, Hawaiian, Lakota, Uzbek, Vietnamese, and Swahili, though over the years 70 different languages have been taught at the school. Stanford is another school taking language learning high-tech through their Digital Language Laboratory, with which all students can expect to get some experience during their time at the school. The DLL allows Stanford teachers to easily determine students’ oral performances in foreign language on a daily basis through oral assessments online and conducting Simulated Oral Proficiency Interviews.

  5. Yale University:

    Yale is home to more than 32 different languages, some modern and some ancient. Teaching methods at Yale embrace both new media, especially online resources, and tried and true methods of improving language learning like engaging with native speakers. Courses are challenging but students can get help through the Yale Center for Language Study, which offers tutoring as well as placement tests and independent study for accelerated students. The YCLS is also a great place for students to access other language learning resources, like movies, television shows, audio recordings, and books in a variety of foreign languages.

  6. Indiana University, Bloomington:

    While it might not have the prestige of Yale, this Midwestern Indiana college shines when it comes to language learning. The school offers 46 different languages, all of which can be taken up to the intermediate level, much more than many other top colleges in the nation. Indiana University is also home to numerous Language Flagship programs which use innovative methods to teach Chinese, Swahili, and Turkish, among others. IU is also no stranger to technology as it uses a wide range of technological resources to teach students including digital audio recordings, videos, international TV, and language labs, many of which are moderated by the school’s Center for Language Technology. Even better, the school hosts a number of foreign language fairs and events, including a yearly world language festival where students can learn about global cultures and languages.

  7. Washington State University:

    Washington State University is trying to pioneer a new way of teaching foreign languages. In 2003, the department changed its name to Foreign Languages and Cultures, reflecting the increased importance the college put on teaching students how to navigate not only a language but also a whole other culture. Other changes were made as well, including the addition of specialized programs for students in business, the social sciences, engineering, and the sciences. For support throughout the year, the Washington students can take advantage of the Language Learning Center where they’ll find audio and visual materials, world TV programs to stream, tutoring, a video lab, and self-paced learning modules, as well as loads of online language resources.

  8. Cornell University:

    Currently, Cornell’s language departments offer about 45 different tongues, and students can learn more about each and find helpful resources at the Language Resource Center. One of the coolest foreign language programs at Cornell is called FALCON and is offered through the Asian Studies department. In FALCON, students work five days a week for nine hours each day intensely studying and immersing themselves in Japanese or Chinese. Besides programs offered by the State Department, it’s the only one of its kind in the U.S., allowing students to become nearly fluent in these Asian languages in just a year. The program is intense but is lauded by teachers and students for being incredibly effective.

  9. Valparaiso University:

    Unlike other schools on this list, Valpo doesn’t offer dozens of languages; it’s currently home to only six. But that doesn’t mean students should count it out as a great place to do some language learning, as the school has excellent resources and some pretty interesting programs for those languages. On campus, students can take advantage of the Language Resource Center that gives students a place to get tutoring, watch films, access audio, or just relax with a cup of coffee while they chat in a foreign language. The school also offers a number of combination majors, which add a foreign language onto things like business, literature, or biology. One of the coolest aspects of foreign language learning at Valparaiso is their foreign language dormitories, which are available in French or German. Students live, work, and teach these languages for the entire time they’re at school, giving them plenty of experience to work toward fluency.

  10. Columbia University:

    Columbia offers courses in 40 unique languages, including 10 different less commonly taught languages, some of which aren’t available at any other institution in the United States. To support language learning on campus, the school offers a Language Resource Center that hosts classes and boasts a large number of useful materials and high tech facilities for students to use. Students enrolled in certain programs are able to take additional language classes at Columbia’s partner schools, NYU, The New School, and CUNY, which can expand language learning options. One of the coolest ways for student to enhance their language learning experience at Columbia, however, is through their Study Away programs. These programs offer language immersion at partner institutions in China, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan while also taking classes in the humanities, economics, science, engineering, and architecture.

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