Skip navigation

Why Study Foreign Languages and Literatures?


Learning a foreign language opens worlds that are closed to most people. Being able to converse, write or read in a foreign language makes you more marketable in this global economy. Proficiency in a foreign language is a key that unlocks opportunities, not only in business, but in relation to peoples and cultures.

We currently offer courses in 14 languages and undergraduate majors in French, German and Spanish. Majors in French, German and Spanish may also pursue educator licensure. Minors are available in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish. You also can participate in a number of interdisciplinary minors: classical studies, comparative literature, Latino/Latin American studies, linguistics and Southeast Asian studies.

Want to really learn a language? Then consider living in our residence program. The Foreign Language Residence Program is a living learning community in Stevenson C for French, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese languages. You will interact with native language speakers and participate in cultural excursions as well as earn one elective credit per semester!

American Sign Language (ASL) is a unique language spoken through the hands and not the mouth. ASL is a complex, dynamic, ever-changing language. It expresses meaning via signed words combined with facial expressions and postures of the body. As you progress through our FLSL program - which includes grammar, literature, conversation and a historical background of American Sign Language - you will also improve your fluency, accuracy and vocabulary.

ASL is the leading minority language in the United States after the “Big Four” of Spanish, Italian, German and French. Estimates range from 500,000 to 2,000,000 speakers in the U.S. alone; there are also many speakers in the U.S. alone, and slowly they are increasing in numbers every year.

You are encouraged to take your knowledge of ASL and apply it to the deaf community and with friends outside of class. Some of these include deaf coffee chats, broadway performances, Deaf Pride student organization, silent weekend retreats and Deaf Expo. In order to be able to fully understand the language, you are also encouraged to sign and not speak from the first day of class.

The deafness minor is offered through Allied Health and Communication Disorders. This includes FLSL 101, 102, 201, 202 (ASL 1-4), AHRS 200 (Disabilities in Society), AHRS 327 (Introduction to Rehabilitation Services) and COMD 300 (Introduction to Audiology).


Related Links

The Burmese language class is geared toward providing the natural surrounds of the language in multiple ways. For beginning students, this entails conversing with native speakers, watching Burmese films, participating in classroom activities with fellow classmates and an annual award reception with various items from Burma as prizes. In addition to these activities, more structured components of learning include the use of John Okell's Burmese text, supplemented by the Burmese SEAsite, which provides ready access to self-guided studies, and exploration of topics on Burma. Using these different techniques, at the end of the first year, you are expected to have achieved the basic level of four essential skills in the Burmese language. As you advance, there are greater opportunities to specialize in your areas of interests, such as choosing readings pertinent to your interests, and to practice your language skills with individuals from the local Burmese community. To round off the experience, regular encounters with authentic Burmese food are provided in a variety of settings, complete with Burmese karaoke. NIU also offers a Beginning Burmese Distance Learning Course.


Tharaphi Than


John Bentley

Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language on earth. The NIU Chinese language program opens doors to the hidden mysteries of Chinese. With the help of an experienced and dedicated instructor, you will learn to distinguish various tones and subtleties of the Chinese language. By the end of the first year, you will be able to engage a native speaker in a simple conversation. By the end of the second year, you will possess the keys to further yourself through your own initiative and creativity in discovering both the eternal wisdom and peculiar foibles of this ancient culture. We also offer a minor in Chinese Studies, where you can pursue your interest in Chinese language and culture.

Parlez-vous Français? French is recognized as an official language of the United Nations, the Olympics and the European Union as well as many of the countries of Africa. France also plays a leadership role in many fields: civil engineering, aeronautics, medical technology and the fashion and entertainment industries. Here at NIU, we are dedicated to the study of French and Francophone literature, culture and film along with French language and French linguistics. We offer a wide variety of courses, ranging from introductory classes in language (100-200 level) to survey courses in French culture and literature (300 level) to specialized courses (400 level) on topics such as commercial French, translation, linguistics or Paris. Such diversity allows you to select the program of study that best fits your personal and professional goals: a French minor or major in French and Francophone studies. We also strongly encourage study abroad. French minors and majors have fulfilled degree requirements while attending academic programs in Avignon, Aix, Grenoble and Pau. Currently, the department supports a faculty-led program in Aix. When you know French, the international world is open to you.

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Learning German provides deeper insights into a region that plays a vital role in central Europe's intellectual and economic life and its cultural history. German is a key language in the European Union and in the rapidly growing markets of Central and Eastern Europe. Germany is America’s largest European trading partner with more than 750 major American firms doing business in Germany and 1100 German companies doing business in the US. We offer courses to give you a choice from the full range of topics in German studies, from language studies and Business German to linguistics, cultural studies, politics and film. You are strongly encouraged either to combine your major with a major or minor in other fields or to pursue educator licensure. Most majors opt to study abroad for a summer, a semester or even a year. We offer competitive scholarships to support study abroad. To help you with language studies at home, we offer a residential immersion program, the Foreign Language Residence Program (FLRP). In this program, you have a chance to improve your German speaking skills on a daily basis while living in an international atmosphere.

Indonesian looks easy to start with – no special writing system, no tones, verbs don’t show tense, nouns and pronouns don’t show gender, number or case (meaning that "I," "me" and "my" can all be expressed with one word, saya). Things start getting complicated pretty quickly, however, in terms of word order, politeness levels (you use saya if you’re being formal, aku if you’re close friends with someone), lots of different words for "you," and assorted prefixes and suffixes that change nouns into verbs and vice versa.

FLIN 103-104 is an intensive course, so things move along quickly, but many students find it easier to learn a language when it meets every day. Class time is used, to the greatest degree possible, for giving you the chance to try out the stuff you’ve been practicing with your classmates, and for letting you ask about the puzzling parts of the whole process; but you will not succeed in this course unless you spend at least an hour a day outside of class, working on the language – practicing, doing exercises and so on.

The course books used for first and second year come from the Keren! series. These are used in Australia and have CDs (which are also available on the computers in the Language Learning Center). The course also make liberal use of internet materials, both on the Indonesian SEAsite and more course-specific SEAsite, both of which allow you to get a much fuller exposure to Indonesian language and culture than would be possible otherwise.


Rahmi Aoyama

Contact: John Bentley (assistant chair)

Many students who study Italian at NIU are of Italian descent, but most are interested in learning about the rich cultural heritage that Italy brings to the fields of art, literature, cinema, food, science and government. We offer a minor in Italian (24 credit hours). You can benefit from a small-classroom learning environment as well as personalized attention from distinguished faculty who have native fluency in the language. The student-governed Italian Club offers many opportunities to practice Italian in a more relaxed setting through a variety of off-campus activities, such as coffee hours, Italian cinema nights and cultural excursions. Students find that advanced knowledge in Italian serves as the perfect complement to studies in archeology, art, music, literature, history, geography and international relations.

The Japanese program at NIU offers a minor in Japanese (21 credit hours). You are exposed to spoken and written Japanese and prepared to study abroad in Japan, if you so desire. Instruction at NIU is proficiency-based, which helps you learn the language in a variety of actual situations with authentic materials. You also study Japanese culture and have an opportunity to take more advanced classes in reading and composition, Japanese literature, as well as Japanese history, art history and political science. NIU is lucky to have the Foreign Language Residence Program, where you can experience immersion in Japanese daily. Those involved in this program have a Japanese native speaker as their neighbor. Students who have minored in Japanese at NIU have gone on to law school, out into the business world, joined the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) or have been hired by Japanese companies.

Our Khmer language learning program will greatly enhance your language learning experience, making it more effective and truly enjoyable. A part of what you will be learning in your study of Khmer is culture. Because Khmer language and culture are different from the Western world, we use the Khmer SEAsite to make the exotic sounds and rich images from authentic Khmer sources easily available both inside and outside the classroom. We provide students with interactive activities, enhanced language learning and culture competency. The use of the internet also entices students to explore Khmer language learning at their own pace and to maximize their learning experience. At the end of your first year of intensive Khmer, you should be able to make your most basic needs and desires known to Cambodians in a variety of social and cultural situations reflecting the topical areas covered in this course. You will be able to comprehend basic spoken and written Khmer and to speak and write enough to function in practical situations. You will also learn how to cook and enjoy exotic Khmer food. At the intermediate levels, you begin to move into areas of your own interests and research needs by learning from authentic materials that include short stories, Khmer pop music, movies and news.


Kheang Leang

Contact: Kheang Leang or John Bentley (assistant chair)

The introductory Latin courses are designed to teach you to read and to translate increasingly more complex passages from Latin literature. The passages provide insights into ancient Roman thought, which is still exercising influence today. The approach is a traditional one and involves the study of grammatical structures, knowledge of which proves useful in the study of other languages, including English. Since a great number of English words are derived from Latin, the student's English vocabulary is enlarged. Of course, you will learn the meaning of common Latin expressions, such as et cetera and habeas corpus.


Contact: Lucinda Alwa or John Bentley (assistant chair)

Portuguese is spoken in South America (Brazil), Europe (Portugal), Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Guinea-Bissau) and Asia (East Timor) by more than 200 million people. This makes it one of the top ten most commonly spoken languages, and as a result, one of the most influential languages in the world. Portuguese is also used by numerous immigrant communities in countries around the world, including the United States.

Portuguese 103 and 104, both five-credit classes, offer you the opportunity to complete your language requirement in just two semesters. You will hear your instructor, who has lived in Portugal and researched the connections between Portugal and Africa, speak with the European accent. The textbook that is used, however, introduces you to both the Brazilian and European variants of Portuguese, allowing you to choose to produce the variant you prefer. Emphasis is given not to any one country or culture, but to the great richness and variety of cultures that are united by this language.


Emily Knudson-Vilaseca

Undergraduate Advising

Jessamine Cooke-Plagwitz

About 150 million people speak Russian. It is the lingua franca of the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan). Russian is a language of national and international importance. It is on the US State Department list of “critically needed” languages. The U.S. government offers several scholarships for intermediate and advanced students to continue their studies of Russian. All branches of the military need it. West Point, as well as the Navy and Air Force Academies, teach all levels of Russian language, literature and culture. In addition, the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, teaches all levels of Russian. The State Department, Department of Commerce and the U.S. Agency for International Development all hire graduates with a variety of degrees and a knowledge of Russian. Moreover, Russian is one of the five official languages of the United Nations.

Russia is the home of such world famous writers as Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Anton Chekhov; it has produced such composers as Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Modest Mussorsky; it was in the forefront of modern abstract art, with such painters as Kazimir Malevich, Marc Chagall and Wassily Kandinsky.

The Russian program at NIU is small and, therefore, highly individualized. A good deal of personal attention is devoted to dedicated students and courses are often designed to meet a particular student’s needs and interests.


Joanna Kot

Contact: Joanna Kot or John Bentley (assistant chair)


Russian language and literature minor checklist

By studying Spanish, you will gain both knowledge and skills that can place you onto a special track in life: that of a true citizen of our multilingual, globalized world.

Through a variety of communicative approaches and activities in the Foreign Languages Learning Center, you are encouraged to speak Spanish from your first day in class so that after only one semester you can complete basic tasks such as ordering a meal in a restaurant, making travel arrangements or engaging in simple conversations about everyday activities.

As you progress through our Spanish major or minor programs, classes in conversation, composition, grammar and literature allow you to acquire a greater degree of fluency and accuracy as well as a larger vocabulary and better cultural and historical understanding. Spanish majors complete their field of study with classes in linguistics, translation, business, civilization and special topics in order have a well-rounded background in language, literature and culture. Graduate students also study literature, linguistics, translation and civilization but the emphasis is on perfecting and expanding existing skills and knowledge.

Tagalog is one of the major languages spoken in the Philippines, mostly by people from the Tagalog regions in the main island of Luzon. It is the lingua franca in Metro Manila, the national capital region of the country. Tagalog has very strong affinity with Malay languages (Bahasa Indonesia/Malay). Due to more than 300 years of Spanish colonial rule over the Philippines, the language has incorporated a significant number of Spanish words and expressions. The language also includes words rooted in English and Chinese. Tagalog is the second most commonly spoken Asian language (after Chinese) in the United States.

The Tagalog SEAsite at NIU is designed with both the beginning and intermediate students in mind. To make your study of the language both challenging and enjoyable, we have incorporated a number of learning activities to enhance your listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. Want to practice your Tagalog conversational skills? Try our Tagalog Chat Room. Other parts of the Tagalog SEAsite include working with translation skills and vocabulary builders.


Rhodalyne Gallo-Crail

Contact: Rhodalyne Gallo-Crail or John Bentley (assistant chair)

Learning Thai – or any foreign language – should be both enjoyable and life-enriching. Because the Thai language and culture are so different from what we find in the Western world, classes use the Thai SEAsite ( to make the exotic sounds and rich images from authentic Thai sources easily available both inside and outside the classroom. By the end of the first year of intensive Thai, you will be able to comprehend basic spoken and written Thai and speak and write enough to function in practical situations. You even learn how to cook and enjoy spicy, succulent Thai food. At the intermediate and upper levels, you begin to move into areas of your own interest and research needs by learning from authentic materials that include internet news, folk tales, short stories, pop music, movies, and, for the graduate student, selections from scholarly publications or literature.


Kanjana Thepboriruk

Contact: Kanjana Thepboriruk or John Bentley (assistant chair)

Contact Us

Foreign Languages and Literatures
Watson Hall 111