Why Study World Languages and Cultures?


Learning a foreign language opens worlds that are closed to most people. 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 and Francophone studies, German studies and Spanish and Hispanic studies. Majors 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 Foreign Language Residence Program, a living learning community in Stevenson C where you will interact with native 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).


John Bentley


Taylor Hartman
Dawn Westhoff

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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.


John Bentley


Tharaphi Than

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.

French is not only the language of love, but also the language of international diplomacy and social movements, of avant-garde art and high-end fashion, of bold entrepreneurs and global institutions. Most importantly, it is the language of diversity. With over 270 millions speakers across the globe, it is the preferred language in several countries throughout Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas. Studying French will broaden your cultural horizons and open up exciting career opportunities both here at home and abroad.

At NIU, French classes are intellectually stimulating, emotionally rewarding and, to put it simply, a lot of fun. Through near-complete immersion, motivated students advance quickly in their language learning and are able to explore exciting cultural and linguistic topics in-depth. With our study abroad program in France, students can get invaluable hands-on experience. Our French Minors and Majors complete the program prepared and eager to take on global challenges.

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.


John Bentley


Rahmi Aoyama

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.

Japanese is the language of anime, manga, the tea ceremony, and cutting-edge technology. Studying Japanese will broaden your view of the world, and make you more marketable to employers. Many employers in the Chicagoland area are looking for people with some Japanese experience. Complete our 24-credit minor (more courses offered for interested students!) and open the door to a new world in East Asia.

Want to increase your fluency? Check out opportunities to study abroad in Japan or to practice with other NIU students at our Foreign Language Residence Program Japanese table.

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.


John Bentley


Kheang Leang

Ancient languages are the bone marrow for the bloodstream of modern languages. The study of Latin improves one’s English vocabulary and sheds light on all branches of scientific terminology. Knowledge of Latin grammar increases understanding of the way in which any language works, no matter how different from Latin. Classical languages live as long as they are an active part of human awareness; their ancient marrow revitalizes our current use of language and cultural understanding.

>The introductory Latin courses in the Classics Program teach the student to translate increasingly complex passages from Latin literature. The small classes allow for individual attention and friendly interaction. We also offer Classical Mythology and special topics classes in Ancient Greek.

The classical studies minor at NIU has an interdisciplinary curriculum that draws on the expertise of a variety of faculty, including members from English, History, Philosophy, and Political Science.






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.

About 150 million people speak Russian, a language of national and international importance. The lingua franca of the former Soviet Union, it is on the US State Department and US military list of “critical languages.” Our ROTC students can study Russian for free during the summer through ProjectGO. A federally subsidized intensive summer program at Arizona State University, stateside and in Russia, is open to any student.

The State Department, Department of Commerce and the US Agency for International Development all hire graduates with a variety of degrees and a knowledge of Russian. Russian communities throughout the US mean that Russian is an asset in a large variety of jobs.

The Russian program at NIU is small and highly individualized, with students receiving a good deal of personal attention. All the literature/culture courses are taught in translation, so that students can begin taking them, while enrolled in first-semester Russian.

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 or Filipino is the second most commonly spoken Asian language (after Chinese) in the United States.

Northern Illinois University has an experienced Tagalog language instructor of 20 years who developed a comprehensive online resource for language learning designed with both the beginning and intermediate students in mind. Check it out at www.seasite.niu.edu. This online site is funded by the US Department of Education National Research Center Program and US Department of Defense National Education Program.

The Beginning Tagalog classes promote the Filipino Culture of “BAYANIHAN,” ONE COMMUNITY SPIRIT, in facilitating small group, student led, language activities that enhance all language skills in speaking, listening, reading, writing and grammar. Intermediate and Advanced Tagalog classes and Translation Courses are available as blended courses with autonomous learning online and face-to-face instruction. A Study Abroad Language Program is available in partnership with Central Luzon State University (CLSU) in the Science City of Munoz, Nueva Ecija, Philippines.

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 (www.seasite.niu.edu/Thai) 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.


John Bentley 


Kanjana Thepboriruk

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World Languages and Cultures
Watson Hall 111