Guide to Foreign Language Study for Graduate Students

This resource, created by Erica Heinsen-Roach as a part of AHA's Graduate School from Start to Finish guide, offers practical information for students and others interested in learning a(nother) foreign language or in honing their reading, writing, and/or conversation skills in a language other than English.

Why seek to master a foreign language?

  • To complete a graduate degree
  • To be able to read documents in a foreign language
  • To be able to make polite conversation with foreign archivists, which will be very beneficial for your research (not to mention, it is just good manners)
  • To gain important insight into another culture
  • To expand your knowledge and increase your chances of finding a job, academic or otherwise
  • To have fun!

If you are looking for funding to cover foreign language training at another institution, consider checking out opportunities through the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships Program.

The list below is by no means comprehensive or complete. 

I. Academic Language Centers in the United States

Most colleges and universities offer classes in languages other than English. In case the selection at your school is limited, there are alternatives. The Modern Language Association compiles a report on languages offered on campuses in the United States, which can be a helpful resource.

Indiana University

Indiana University in Bloomington houses one of the oldest and most diverse language programs in the nation. The IU Summer Language Workshop caters to students seeking intensive training for eight to nine weeks. Taking language courses here might be beneficial during the summer. IU offers the opportunity to apply for funding. The university also offers, besides the summer courses, comprehensive studies in Chinese, Turkish, and Arabic through its flagship programs. In addition, it houses two centers, the Center for Languages of the Central Asian Region and the National African Language Resource Center that focus on languages offered less frequently, for example, Dari, Uzbek, and Swahili.

Middlebury Language Schools

Middlebury Language Schools specialize in six- to eight-week courses in a variety of languages. The Middlebury, Vermont, location offers Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. The school also hosts courses in Arabic, Italian, and Korean at Mills College in Oakland, California. Middlebury Language Schools offers financial aid.

II. Independent Cultural Institutions in the United States

Many (European) nation-states promote the study of their culture and official language through nonprofit cultural institutions abroad. These organizations are usually supported by departments of foreign affairs. In the United States the following institutions offer a wide variety of courses.


The Alliance Française is a federation of alliances. Students can take different levels in French reading, writing, and conversation. Some alliances offer private classes. The duration of courses differs per location.


The Goethe Institut is named after the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The institute operates worldwide. In the United States, it is located in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. The institute also offers online live courses that allow students to take courses at home.


Affiliations of Italy’s Dante Alighieri Society can be found in Seattle, Washington; Detroit, Michigan; and Cambridge, Massachusetts and offer courses in Italian.


Like the French and German institutes, Portugal’s Instituto Camões also operates globally, including in Portuguese-speaking countries. In the US, its cultural centers are affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Boston, Rutgers University in Newark, and San Diego State University.


Spain’s Instituto Cervantes, named after the early modern Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, is located in non-Spanish-speaking countries.

III. Language Centers Abroad

The best way to learn a language is to travel and study it abroad. Some of the cultural institutions listed above are also active in their homeland.


The Goethe Institut also offers courses in various locations throughout Germany.


Dante Alighieri Society is located in Bologna, Florence, Siena, Milan, and Rome.


The John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies supports the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, which offers bilingual education to promote Sino-global relations. Earning a certificate in Mandarin will take two semesters.


The Mandarin Training Center is part of the Taiwan Normal University. Depending on time and needs, MTC offers long- and short-term courses for learning Mandarin. The website includes useful information on visas and scholarships.