Want to learn to speak Chinese? How about Arabic? Or Russian? Or French, Spanish, German, Japanese, and KiSwahili? Grinnell students know that living in today’s world means communicating with people in different languages. That’s why so many Grinnell students learn a language beyond English—even though Grinnell has no mandatory language requirement.

Grinnell has language professors in ArabicChineseFrenchGermanJapaneseRussianSpanish, and the Classical languages (Ancient Greek and Latin). In addition, through the Alternate Language Study Option, students can do individualized study of a number of other less-commonly taught languages, such as Czech or Brazilian Portuguese.

Grinnell’s language professors are known for their intense “immersion” of students into the real-life context of each language. Students may become more fluent in a single semester of language study at Grinnell than in two years at high school. Language instruction is complemented by the residential language houses (such as Chinese House, French House, German House, Russian House, and Spanish House) and by the weekly language tables in the Dining Hall. Language departments also have film showings, guest lecturers, and short courses (like the annual German-Writer-in-Residence) and many other opportunities to interact with native speakers.

Foreign languages integrate well into any major, since students in virtually every Grinnell major can study abroad for a semester. In addition, some of the interdisciplinary concentrations like Latin American Studies or Russian, Central, and Eastern European Studies offer opportunities for students to place language study in the context of understanding a particular region of the world.

Most Grinnell students hone their language skills by spending a semester away on off-campus study, living with a family and taking courses in places like Chile, Kuwait, France, China, Japan, Spain, Costa Rica, and Russia. Students can also pursue opportunities to work abroad after graduation, thereby giving them more experience to speak the languages they have learned.


  • Nearly 90% of Grinnell students complete at least one language course at Grinnell, and nearly 50% complete at least three courses. About 13% of Grinnell graduates are language majors.
  • Grinnell ranks first among all undergraduate institutions in the proportion of its graduates who earn a doctoral degree in a foreign language. (Source: 2005-06 Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium Weighted Baccalaureate Origins Study)
  • Grinnell is one of few undergraduate colleges to have full-time, permanent instructors in Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese.
  • Some of the languages that can be studied through the Alternate Language Study Option include Czech, Hebrew, Modern Greek, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Italian.
  • Many Grinnell students double major in a language and in another field, such as biology, political science, sociology, or math.