Frequently Asked Questions
Welcome to the Department of Modern and Classical Languages. This document has been prepared to help students find answers to questions regarding degree requirements and information on careers available to language students. As you use this document, please take notes not only to answer your questions, but also to remember what questions you did not find answered. Your advisor will attempt to incorporate your suggestions into revisions of this document.
- Who studies foreign languages, and why? Answer
All students pursuing a BA degree at the University of Houston are required to complete two years of a foreign language, either by taking the beginning and intermediate level language classes or demonstrating (through placement / credit-by-examination scores) equivalent proficiency in a foreign language. It is strongly recommended that students begin the required foreign language sequence as early as possible, either in their freshmen or sophomore year.
Many students, however, undertake language study not to satisfy a requirement but out of a fascination for exploring another culture through its literature, cinema, and history and to broaden their international knowledge base. Others seek to learn more about the language and culture of their parents or grandparents or to prepare for study or work abroad. Cross-cultural communication skills and international experience are highly desirable in today’s job market and linguistic and cultural proficiency in another language is of increasing importance for students seeking careers in international trade, tourism, health care, finance, law, education, and information services.
The four-semester (beginning and intermediate) course sequence in a foreign language establishes a solid foundation for communicating in that language. But there are numerous reasons to continue beyond the required two-year course sequence by either taking additional, advanced courses or minoring / majoring in a language.
Advanced coursework in a language enables students to gain a level of proficiency that will allow them to apply the language in a wider range of professional and academic contexts. A language minor or double-major significantly enhances career opportunities in our increasingly global world. Advanced knowledge in a foreign language and culture and the demonstrated ability to communicate across cultures is also advantageous for students planning to apply for graduate school, even in non-related fields such as law or medical school.
Language majors interested in teaching will find good opportunities for employment. The national emphasis on foreign language learning at the primary and secondary school levels has increased the demand for qualified language teachers in the Houston metropolitan area and beyond.
- Would you like to know more about the benefits of proficiency in navigating another language and culture? Answer
Visit the “Engaging the World – U.S. Global Competence in the 21st Century” portal and watch interviews with professionals in a wide range of fields for whom such knowledge has made an essential difference in their careers and lives.
- Are there other benefits of studying a foreign language?Answer
Absolutely. Studies by neurolinguists have shown that learning a second language alters the human brain and boosts brain power, improving cognitive and logic skills and the ability to multitask and may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. According to psychologist Ellen Bialystock, “switching between different languages seems to stimulate the brain so that it builds up a cognitive reserve. ‘It is rather like a reserve tank in a car. When you run out of fuel, you can keep going for longer because there is a bit more in the safety tank.’" (Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/feb/18/bilingual-alzheimers-brain-power-multitasking)
- What minors work best for foreign language majors? Answer
For students interested in public service or government, a minor in Political Science, History, National Security Studies, Sociology, or Psychology might be advisable.
Future teachers would be well served with a minor in another language, in World Cultures and Literatures, in English, or in History.
Students planning to enter the business world might want to consider to minor in Global Business, Global Energy Management, Marketing, or Business Administration.
The Medicine & Society minor in the Honors College is open to all students and would be a good choice for students seeking a career in a health care or related fields.
Students interested in broadening their understanding of culture and exploring interdisciplinary fields with global or transnational dimensions might be interested in the World Cultures and Literatures minor, the World Cities minor, Art History, GLBT Studies, or Women’s Studies.
There are many possible “good” choices and students are encouraged to follow their interests in choosing a minor. If you would like more advice in this matter, talk to your language professor or the departmental advisor.
- I already have studied a language or speak another language. Where do I start at the university level?Answer
Many students arrive at the University of Houston with knowledge of one or more foreign languages either from previous study or from hearing and speaking the language at home or in residence abroad. Every effort is made to direct such students to appropriate courses so that they can make use of and build on their previous language knowledge but at the same time to avoid placing them in courses that are too challenging.
All students who had two or more years of a language in high school or students who took college level classes but let some time (more than one year) lapse since the last course was taken must take a Placement Exam.
The University Testing Services Center offers placement exams in:
Students with a background in a language not listed above should contact the departmental advisor or program director of that language for information regarding course placement.
- Can I get credit for my previously acquired language skills?
Yes, in many cases. In most languages, credit is given for high scores on AP tests, CLEP, IB, and on the basis of on the University's own evaluations. Credit-by-examination tests are administered by the University Testing Services Center or, for some languages, in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages. See “Credit by Examination” in the Undergraduate Catalog or your advisor for further details.
- What about transfer credits?
Credits can be transferred from other accredited institutions of higher learning with little difficulty.
There are a few limits to be kept in mind:
- The maximum total number of credits transferrable from a junior or community college is 66.
- Students receiving a bachelors degree from the University of Houston must take their last 30 credits in residence, that is, at the University of Houston.
- At least 12 credits in one's major,and at least 9 credits in a minor must be taken in residence
- I would like to study abroad. What are my options?
Study-abroad - during the summer, for a semester, or for an entire year - is highly encouraged for all students wanting to deepen their understanding of another language or culture.
The Department of Modern and Classical Languages offers faculty-led summer study abroad programs in France and China, we exchange students with the University of Leipzig (Germany), and each summer, several of our students study Italian in Siena. Some departmental scholarship support is available for these programs. For more details, check our Study-Abroad pages
But more options are available in many different parts of the world. The UH Office of International Studies and Programs provides information on a wide range of study abroad opportunities and study-abroad scholarships.
- I have never attempted to learn another language. Which language should I choose? What help is available?
With very few exceptions, everybody can learn a new language. At any age. There are no “easy” or “difficult” languages. Certainly, if you study Arabic, Russian, or Chinese, for example, you will first have to learn new characters and/or alphabets. Chinese grammar, on the other hand, is much simpler and easier to master than German grammar. Both French and German have many words that are similar to English, which may make these languages appear to be much easier to learn at the beginning. In the end, what matters most is not the perceived (or real) difficulty of the language but your interest and motivation in learning that specific language. You will be investing considerable time to memorizing words and structures and practicing your speaking skills. So pick the language that is most meaningful to you. You will have more fun and will be more motivated to seek out opportunities to use the language in meaningful interactions and to practice and apply your newly acquired skills outside of the classroom by watching movies, browsing the internet for content in your target language, or conversing with native speakers.
When learning a new language, at least at the beginning, you might be very self-conscious when trying to communicate in the language. Successful language learners are willing to practice (inside and outside of class) and to risk making mistakes, navigate ambiguities, search for meaning from context when listening and reading, are aware that language is also culture and pay attention to linguistic and cultural differences, interact with other students and the instructor in the target language, are sensitive to the needs of others in the classroom, and realize that language learning takes time and requires an active learner.
For beginning and intermediate students in most of our language programs, MCL offers free peer tutoring by advanced students. Please check with your instructor and/or the department for the semester tutoring schedule.
Tutoring in some languages and other support, such as learning style assessment and counceling is available from the UH Learning Support Services Center.
The Language Acquisition Center (LAC) provides interactive tutorials, word processing capabilities, dictionaries, and Internet access for the study of world languages, literatures, and cultures. The LAC maintains a comprehensive collection of educational and cultural films and documentaries and software.
- What should I expect from a language class?
All our language classes are small and emphasize communicative competence. This means that you will be actively engaging with classmates and your instructor, practicing your speaking and listening-comprehension skills in class. As much class time as possible will be devoted to interaction and meaningful use of the language. Regular attendance and active participation are mandatory to succeed in a language class.
You will be expected to complete homework assignments (such as memorizing new words, learning new grammatical concepts, practice exercises, etc.) on a regular basis. Language learning is cumulative and, like learning how to play a musical instrument, requires frequent practice and repetition/review of what you have already learned. You will be surprised how soon you will start thinking (and perhaps even dreaming) in your target language!
Language cannot be separated from content and cultural context. From the very beginning, you will also learn about the culture and society, the history, the people, the food, and other aspects of every-day life of countries in which the target language is spoken. As you do so, you will become increasingly aware of intercultural differences, gaining a new perspective not only on the target culture but also on your own.
Because our language classes are relatively small and students tend to take four (or more) courses in sequence, often staying together as a group of learners, we build strong learning communities in which students interact with faculty and each other on a regular basis.