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Academic Program

Scott Amphitheater

Swarthmore holds commencement at the Scott Outdoor Amphitheater, which was constructed in 1942. (Photo: Alina Jara Yupanqui)


We learn by doing | The Curriculum | Faculty


We learn by doing

Small classes in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures give students ample opportunity for practice and encourage both linguistic proficiency and cultural literacy. In our language courses, we expose students to different accents and teaching styles and foster an active and rewarding learning experience.

Advanced literature courses and seminars immerse students in the target language and culture. In our interdisciplinary courses—many offered in English—students learn to approach literature, film, and culture critically, investigating the necessary historical and theoretical frameworks in order to develop personal interpretations in close readings and class discussions.

The Curriculum

Our courses balance traditional objects of study—such as Taoism in Chinese poetry and prose, the Renaissance and Romantic eras of France, noh and kabuki drama of Japan, morality in the classical Russian novel, the history of German drama, twentieth century Spanish literature, women’s writing in Arabic— with emerging interdisciplinary projects on topics such as urban modernity, gender and sexuality, and media representations. Our curriculum engages the classics of world literature and also adapts to reflect the latest redefinitions and debates occurring within the Humanities. In stimulating seminars, students and professors raise challenging questions in creative engagement with a diverse set of cultural materials. The linguistic knowledge students acquire in our courses enables them to speak and write confidently about texts and contexts.

In conjunction with demonstrated competence in the language, a foreign literature major will normally complete a minimum of 8 credits in advanced language, literature, or culture courses, and a culminating exercise, such as a thesis, a comprehensive or Honors examination. Depending on the program, one or more pertinent courses for the major may be taken in English.

The department encourages interdisciplinary approaches and special majors. Students interested in more than one literature are encouraged to consider a major in comparative literature . Students should also take note of the related major in Linguistics and Languages or special major with Educational Studies.

In collaboration with Educational Studies, the department offers teacher certification in modern languages (French and German) through a program approved by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


Modern Languages and Literatures professors are strongly committed to the teacher/scholar model in which our research informs and inspires our teaching. Lively analytical exchanges with students and colleagues from other departments enhance the learning experience and suggest the many bridges that language and culture study can build. Many of us teach cross-listed courses and have chaired or regularly work with related interdisciplinary programs such as Asian studies, Black studies, comparative literature, interpretation theory, film and media studies, gender and sexuality studies, Islamic studies, and medieval studies.

Choose a Language Program

Language Study in the Age of Globalization

This brochure by the Modern Language Association is directed primarily to college students. It​ explains how knowing other languages enriches students’ personal lives, expands their range of professional opportunities, and increases their power to act as citizens of the world.


Language Media Lab

The Language Media Lab provides resources to enhance the study of foreign language, literature, and culture at Swarthmore College. Students have access to audio/video materials required for foreign language classes. The lab's resources include 12 Macbook Pros, 8 iMacs, an extensive library of foreign films, video cameras, and audio recorders. The space is a unique, adaptable, multimedia-friendly place to study, practice and develop language skills. 

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