The Academic Program
Our courses balance traditional objects of study with emerging interdisciplinary projects on topics such as urban modernity, gender and sexuality, and media representations and manipulations of cultural values. Our curriculum engages the classics of world literature while also adapting to reflect the latest redefinitions and debates occurring within the Humanities. The linguistic knowledge students acquire in our courses enables them to speak and write confidently about texts and contexts, to go abroad and encounter the world and its residents in very different, more informed and meaningful ways.
Along with demonstrated competence in the language, a foreign literature major will normally complete a minimum of 8 credits in courses in advanced language, literature, or culture, and a culminating exercise such as a thesis, an oral or written comprehensive examination, or honors examinations. Depending on the program, one or more courses for the major may be taken in English. The department encourages interdisciplinary approaches and pertinent special majors. Students interested in more than one literature are encouraged to consider a major in comparative literature. Students with strong interest in learning languages and their mechanics should also take note of the related major in Linguistics and Languages. The department collaborates with Educational Studies to help students who wish to get teacher certification.
The Language Requirement
To receive the degree of Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science, candidates must fulfill a foreign language requirement. The foreign language requirement can be fulfilled by:
- Successfully studying 3 years or the “block” equivalent of a single foreign language in grades 9 through 12 (work done before grade 9 cannot be counted, regardless of the course level);
- Achieving a score of 600 or better on a standard achievement test of a foreign language;
- Passing either the final term of a college-level, yearlong, introductory foreign language course or a semester-long intermediate foreign language course; or
- Learning English as a foreign language while remaining demonstrably proficient in another.
If you have fulfilled your language requirement, the department encourages you to use your time at Swarthmore to become truly proficient in that language, or to discover a new one.
Students whose placement recommendation is above the language sequence should consider taking introductory and/or advanced courses, many of which fulfill the College’s writing requirement.
The Modern Languages and Literatures Department offers placement tests so as to appropriately position students in language classes when they arrive on campus. New students who have previously studied or have fluency in a language offered at Swarthmore should plan to take a placement test either online (French and German), during orientation week/the start of classes (Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese), or to meet with the section head (Russian). Students who have French/German AP/IB are also required to take the online placement test. Upperclass students interested in taking placement test should contact Michael Jones in the Language Resource Center for information and instructions (mjones1, 610-328-8036).
For French only, first-year students with a 531 or higher on their online French placement test are required to take the written literature/culture essay placement test during orientation week to be correctly placed in a French class.
Note: Placement Tests are not a substitute for an official standard achievement test of a foreign language (such as the College Board exam or the International Baccalaureate). Therefore, they do not serve as proof of achievement for the purpose of fulfilling the language requirement. These tests are only intended to assist instructors in placing students in the appropriate Swarthmore course.
For additional information on placement visit each program’s website.
Advancement Placement and International Baccalaureate Credit
The department will grant 1 credit for incoming students who achieved a score of 4 or 5 on Advanced Placement Chinese, French, German, Japanese or Russian examinations once they have successfully completed a one-credit course in that language at the College.
The department will grant 1 credit for incoming students who have achieved a score of 6 or 7 in a foreign language on the International Baccalaureate once they have successfully completed a one-credit course in that language at the College.
Students who took an AP or IB exam should consult the department for more information.
Note: Students with French/German AP-IB scores are nonetheless required to take the online placement test.
Explanatory Note On First-and Second-Year Language Courses
Courses numbered 001-002, 003, and, in some languages also 004, carry 1.5 credits per semester. Four semesters in this sequence are equivalent to two or sometimes more years of work at the college level.
These courses encourage development of communicative proficiency through an interactive task-based approach and provide students with an active and rewarding learning experience as they strengthen their language skills and develop their cultural competency These courses meet alternately as sections for grammar presentation and small groups for oral practice and may also require work in regular scheduled tutorials or in the Language Resource Center.
Students who start in the 001-002 sequence must complete 002 to receive credit for 001. However, students placing directly in 002 can receive 1.5 semester credits for that course. Please note that students must register for both parts of the course in the 001-004 sequence, which meet five days per week.
We offer teacher certification in modern languages (French, German, and Russian) through a program approved by the state of Pennsylvania. For further information about the relevant requirements, please refer to the Educational Studies section of the College Bulletin or see the Educational Studies Department website: www.swarthmore.edu/educationalstudies.xml.
Students on financial aid may apply that aid to designated programs of study abroad.
Study abroad is particularly encouraged for students of Arabic; academic credit (full or partial) is generally approved for participation in programs of varying duration in different Arab countries that are recommended by the Arabic section. These include, but are not limited to, universities and programs in Jordan, Morocco, and Oman.
Study abroad is particularly encouraged for students of Chinese; academic credit (full or partial) is generally approved for participation in several programs of varying duration in the People’s Republic of China and in Taiwan, recommended by the Chinese section. In the People’s Republic these include, but are not limited to, the Inter-University Program (IUP) Program at Tsing-hua University, the Associated Colleges in China (ACC) Program, the CET Program in Harbin and the Middlebury program in Kunming. In Taiwan, these include the International Chinese Language Program (ICLP) and the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei; and the Chinese Language Center, National Cheng Kung University in Tainan.
All French/Francophone studies majors are required to complete a preapproved, semester-long study abroad program in a French-speaking country. Minors are strongly encouraged to attend such semester-long programs and should at least attend a preapproved six-week summer program in a francophone country.
Students of German studies are strongly encouraged to spend at least a semester in a German-speaking country. There are several excellent opportunities to participate in an approved program, such as the Columbia Consortium Program in Berlin, the Macalester College German Study Program in Berlin/Vienna, or the Dickinson college program in Bremen. Students should consider going abroad in the spring semester. This will enable them to participate fully in the semester schedule of German and Austrian Universities.
Students of Japanese are strongly encouraged to participate in study abroad programs. Swarthmore College participates in a regular exchange program with Tokyo University, and the Japanese Section has prepared a carefully selected list of other recommended programs in Kyoto, Nagoya, and elsewhere. Students interested in study abroad should consult with the head of the Japanese Section for more information.
Students in Russian are strongly encouraged to spend at least one semester in the ACTR, CIEE, or Middlebury programs or at the Smolny Institute through Bard College, among others in Russia.