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Modern Languages and Literatures

At Sarah Lawrence College, we recognize that languages are fundamentally modes of being-in-the-world and uniquely reveal the way that we exist as human beings. Far from being a mechanical tool, language study encourages self-examination and cross-cultural understanding, offering a vantage point from which to evaluate personal and cultural assumptions, prejudices, and certainties. Learning a new language is not about putting into another verbal system what you want or know how to say in your own language; it is about learning by listening and reading and by gaining the ability to think in fundamentally different ways.

The College offers six modern and two classical languages and literatures. Students may take French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish from beginning to advanced levels that equally stress the development of communicative skills such as speaking, listening comprehension, reading, and writing, as well as the study of literature written in these languages in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. We also offer Ancient Greek and Latin at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels, emphasizing exploration of ancient texts in their original historical, political, artistic, and social contexts and encouraging assessment of ancient works on their own terms as a means of elucidating both timeless and contemporary human issues and concerns.

As is the case for all seminars at Sarah Lawrence College, our language classes are capped at 15, and students have unparalleled opportunities to engage with the language in and out of class—including individual and group conferences, weekly meetings with language assistants in small groups, language clubs, and language tables. Our proximity to New York City offers terrific opportunities to encounter the cultures and languages that we teach—through lectures, exhibits, plays, films, operas, and many other cultural events that are readily available. Conference work in a language class provides an opportunity for students to pursue their own particular interest in the language. Student conference projects are exceptionally diverse, ranging from reading or translation, internships, or work on scholarly or creative writing to listening to music, watching films, or the extended study of grammar. In Ancient Greek and Latin courses, beginning students acquire in one year a solid foundation in grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. Equivalent to three courses at other colleges and universities, one year of Ancient Greek or Latin at Sarah Lawrence College empowers students to read ancient texts with precision and increasing facility. At the intermediate and advanced levels, students refine their linguistic abilities while analyzing specific ancient authors, genres, or periods—often in comparison to later artists, writers, theorists, or critics.

The interdisciplinary approach across the curriculum at Sarah Lawrence College also means that students can take their study of language to conference work for another class; for example, reading primary texts in the original Spanish for a class on Borges and math, studying Russian montage or 20th-century Japanese cinema for a class on film history, or performing German lieder or Italian opera in voice class or Molière in a theatre class. The language faculty also offer literature courses in translation, so that students can choose to combine literature study with conference work in the original languages. We also sponsor an annual journal of translation, Babel, which invites submissions from across the College.

Finally, our open curriculum encourages students to plan a semester or an entire year abroad, and a large percentage of our students spend their junior year in non-English-speaking countries. In addition to our long-established programs in Florence, Catania, Paris, and Cuba, the College has recently initiated a study-abroad program in Barcelona. Starting in 2012, we will offer a number of new programs, including a program in Peru for students of Spanish and an exchange program with Tsuda College in Japan; 2012 will also mark the start of a summer course in German Studies and Dance in Berlin, as well as a summer course in translation in Buenos Aires. Our study-abroad programs are usually based on a concept of “full immersion,” including experiences such as study at the local university, homestays, and volunteer work in the country. We also send students to many non-Sarah Lawrence College programs all over the world.