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7 Top US Universities for Studying Languages

MAY 04, 2021

Language and literature are staples that help define any culture and its history. A degree in a foreign language, linguistics or something similar can open many doors for careers in communications, international affairs and politics, research, tourism, translation and much more! For aspiring language students, here are 7 top US universities known for their world-renowned foreign language and literature programs.

There are many benefits of studying foreign languages, whether you opt to choose one and major in it, study multiple languages within a broader overarching degree program, double-major in a language and something else, or add a foreign language as a minor alongside your chosen major. Studying one or more languages builds your cultural awareness, strengthens your communication skills and broadens your career opportunities after graduation.

However, if you’re interested in pursuing a language degree but are not a polyglot by nature (as most of us aren’t), it’s important to find a university whose foreign language offerings will set you up for success. Whether you’re looking for a broad range of languages to choose from, a high degree of depth and rigor in your courses, immersive study abroad options, or a holistic cultural approach engrained in the curriculum, these 7 universities are among the best in the US for studying languages.

Harvard University

With one of the most extensive lists of languages offered, students at this Ivy League school also benefit from an even wider assortment of tutorials for languages that aren’t represented as a concentration of study.

Beyond being the one of the most globally recognized universities, Harvard also has 16 study abroad options across four continents. Similarly, its graduate school is highly ranked in cultural and linguistic studies, and provides a springboard into ambassadorship, translations, and many other careers.

Columbia University

The Columbia University Language Resource Center (LRC) focuses on promoting unique approaches to learning across a wide range of languages as it seeks to promote better teaching practices and methods for all students. The LRC’s approach encourages collaboration across departments, disciplines, and schools.

Home to a number of less commonly taught languages and digital resources used to support instruction in all of Columbia’s language offerings, the LRC enables the university to increase the number of languages taught, encourage the adoption of innovative language learning, and deepen the opportunities and context for language study available to students.

Stanford University

With course offerings in more than forty languages, programs at Stanford’s Language Center are proficiency-oriented and based on a rigorous standard. Their language programs emphasize doing rather than knowing, so that students learn to speak, listen, read, and write in ways that are more useful in a real world setting.

The Language Center, prepares Stanford students to have a foreign language capability that enhances their academics and enables them to live, work, study, and research in a different country. Students need to be able have interactions with people from other cultures but also to engage with them on issues of mutual concern.

Duke University

Studying a language at Duke comes with the goal to develop proficiency in a second language in order to fully explore other histories, cultures, traditions, and literatures. Students hope to gain an understanding and appreciation for culture as displayed within the language, and to bring new perspectives that enhance understanding of issues of similarity and difference.

Duke offers many languages as majors, as well as a multitude of others occasionally available and some offered in conjunction with neighboring schools like UNC Chapel Hill. The university strongly recommends those who major or minor in a language to study abroad in a country that speaks their language to develop complete fluency.

Williams College

The Center for Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Cultures (CFLLC) at Williams contains a few broad departments: German and Russian, Romance Languages, Asian Studies, and Comparative Literature and Arabic. Their collective mission is to promote language study to broaden students’ understanding of cultures, see the world from different perspectives, and encourage academic and intellectual enrichment to reach beyond disciplinary boundaries. The university offers language opportunities both at its US campus and abroad.

The CFLLC sponsors faculty seminars, public lectures, exhibits, performances, and film series that focus on foreign cultures and current issues through an international lens. They also have a language lab where students can explore their language of choice digitally.

Middlebury College

Middlebury’s claim to fame in the language departments lies in the rigor and reputation of its program, as well as offering the most study abroad options out of any top university. In these programs, students must take at least one 0300-level class, and make a commitment to speak only the language of the country itself. 

A good indication of this Liberal Arts College’s commitment to foreign language is that its only graduate programs available are in languages! That, coupled with nine full majors offered in languages, gives Middlebury one of the highest focus on language per resource spent amongst colleges.

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt has a wide variety of languages not normally taught at other schools, alluding to its larger size than most schools of Vanderbilt’s caliber. Amongst the 17 main languages taught, Vanderbilt has 40 study abroad options with which an ambitious student could supplement their language education.

Unique to Vanderbilt, students have the option to study indigenous languages such as K'iche' Mayan, which has around one million native speakers centered around Northern Guatemala. 

Are you interested in studying a foreign language at a top US university? Crimson is the world’s leading university admissions support company specializing in helping students gain entry to the most competitive universities in the US and UK, starting with identifying the best-fit universities for each student’s goals, interests and priorities. To learn how Crimson can help you explore language opportunities at leading universities, schedule a free consultation with one of our expert academic advisors today.

Alex N.

Written by

Alex N.

Alex is a longtime Crimson student who was admitted to Middlebury College to study physics. He enjoys poetry, history, philosophy, Spanish, and of course — physics! In his free time, he enjoys writing, exercising, and spending time with his friends.