Critical Languages

The Critical Languages Program offers the possibility of studying languages not offered on a regular basis at the college and is designed to complement coursework in other areas. The Program originated in part from requests by a more diverse student body, faculty’s interests in emerging regional issues, and from the ever-pressing need to respond to the pluralistic realities of today’s world. Currently, students can study elementary Hebrew, Hindi, Korean and Swahili in a self-instructional mode under the tutorial supervision of qualified native speakers and in consultation with senior language specialists from other institutions. For academic year ’17 – ’18 we will be offering elementary Portuguese in collaboration with Vassar College’s program.

Information and Enrollment Procedures
 The program can field a limited number of courses per year, and it has offered one–year of elementary Hebrew, Hindi, Korean and Swahili thus far. Each may be studied for one year at the elementary level. Students work independently with recommended textbooks and audio materials for roughly ten hours per week and attend group review sessions twice weekly with native-speaking tutors. Language faculty from other institutions provide the syllabus, recommend the textbooks, and evaluate the students’ progress.

In order to enroll in any Critical Language course, the student must complete an application in early April (forms are available at the Coordinator’s office in Hollander, Rm. 230) and be accepted into the program. Second-year or higher students with a 3.0 GPA may apply; they should demonstrate previous foreign language and/or independent study; and they must explain how the study of one of these languages integrates with their academic interests. A Critical Languages course will be scheduled only if and when at least two students are accepted into the course.

Students should note that Critical Languages courses are hyphenated, meaning no credit is given for the first semester until the second semester is successfully completed; the courses cannot be taken Pass/Fail. It can be taken as a graded fifth course.

The Critical Languages Program at Williams adheres to the standards of the National Association of Self-Instructional Language Programs (NASILP).

Contact program coordinator, Jane Canova, for more information.


  • FAQ

    FAQ: Information and Application Period for AY 2017-2018

    What's new?

    Elementary Portuguese will be offered this year in collaboration with Vassar College. The class will meet with students and the language tutor at Vassar through videoconferencing technology. There will be some adjustment to accommodate both colleges different academic schedules.

    What languages are offered? 

    Hebrew, Hindi, Korean and Swahili for one year of elementary study.

    What does “critical” mean?

    Critical has always referred to the “less commonly taught languages.”

    Why study a critical language?

    Most often the language study is relevant to your major or other academic interests. You might have personal reasons that stem from family background or you may just relish the challenge of a new & difficult language.

    How is this course different from other language courses?

    The coursework involves intensive study in an independent format. Unlike a regular class where the instructor teaches five days a week, students are expected to cover the material on their own. The language groups then meet 2x/week for one-hour review sessions with a tutor.

    How much studying will I be expected to devote to this course?

    Lots. At least five hours study of the textbook and workbook plus use of any multimedia materials and two hours of review with a tutor. In short, the same amount of time you would spend in any regularly taught 101 – 102 language class.

    Who are the tutors?

    The tutors are generally native speakers who live in the community or in some cases, students at the college. Review sessions are many times conducted via Skype with a tutor at another institution. Tutors are resources for spoken practice and modeling of language use.

    Who are the outside consultants/examiners?

    They are professors at universities where full-fledged programs in the language are taught. The consultants recommend the textbook and provide the syllabus, conduct the exams, and grade your work.

    How am I graded?

    Participation, mid-term, final exam and an independent writing project each semester all count towards your course grade.

    Why does the hyphenated rule apply?

    All language courses at the college are year-long, meaning “the work of two semesters constitutes an integral, indivisible course.”

    Can I take it as a fifth course?

    Yes, the course may be taken as a graded fifth course.

    What about the Winter Study period?

    There is no winter study sustaining program in the Critical Languages.

    What if I already have some basic skills in the language?

    In this case, a pre-test will be required to determine eligibility.

    Can I study the languages offered at the intermediate level?

    While the College’s Committee on Educational Policy has only approved one-year of elementary language study, occasionally students continue on to the intermediate level (pending availability of the tutor and funding). In either case, the language  will enhance the content of your major area of study and may be a jumpstart to study abroad or to summer/ post-graduation experiences in a country where the language is spoken.

    Can I study a different language?

    The program can field a limited number of courses per year. Many requests are received for other languages such as Portuguese, Vietnamese, Persian, Thai, Norwegian, and Indonesian for which assistance with textbook recommendations, audio materials, and sources for standardized exams can be provided.

    Application Process

    Who can apply?

    You must be a second-year student or higher and have at least a 3.0 GPA.

    Why must I apply?

    A coherent proposal and your academic profile attest to your intentions and ability to sustain the independent format of Critical Languages study.

    When can I apply?

    The application and information period opens the Monday after spring break. Students are notified of their acceptance into the program before pre-registration at the end of April. Courses will be offered only if a minimum of two students enrolls.

    Where can I pick up an application?

    Applications can be picked up at the Coordinator’s office in 230 Hollander.

    Application deadline is April 17.


  • Critical Languages Information Period & Application Process

    The information and application period for the Critical Languages Program is open immediately after Spring Break until one week before the Pre-registration period for the Fall semester. A completed application must be submitted and accepted before a student can enroll in a Critical Language course. Please keep in mind the following procedures when applying:

    1. Due to the independent nature of critical language study, you must demonstrate academic responsibility, motivation for language learning, and preparedness to tackle the selected language. You must be a second-year student or higher and have at least a 3.0 GPA. Please submit a copy of your transcript with your application.
    2. You must also enlist a faculty member to support your petition for critical language study. This sponsor should be familiar with your academic record and the discipline relevant to the proposed critical language study. You should discuss your plans with your faculty sponsor before asking him/her to fill out the form.
    3. In some cases, a pre-test will be required to determine eligibility.
    4. You will be notified of your acceptance in time for pre-registration at the end of the month.
    5. Be advised that a Critical Languages course can be scheduled only when at least two students are accepted for study, and provided a native tutor and outside examiner have been contracted.
    6. Accepted students must confirm in writing their intention to study in the program.

    Completed applications should be submitted either on-line using the form below or in paper form to Jane Canova, Administrative Director and Critical Languages Coordinator, Center for Foreign Languages, Hollander Hall 230.

    The application deadline is April 17, 2017.



  • Faculty Sponsor for Critical Language Application

    Dear Faculty:

    Students wishing to enroll in the Critical Languages Program at Williams are required to have a faculty member support their application. This program offers students one-year of elementary Hebrew, Hindi, Korean, Portuguese, and Swahili in a self-instructional format with weekly review sessions conducted by native speakers from the area or via Skype. A full-time language professor at another institution serves as the consultant for the course - providing the syllabus, monitoring student progress, administering the exams and determining the grade.

    Since students must be highly motivated  to sustain study of these less commonly taught languages in an independent mode, your input on the applicant's ability to successfully complete the program would be greatly appreciated. You can either fill out the online form below or download the form here and send via email.

    The application deadline is April 17, 2017.

    Thanks for your support.

    Jane Canova
    Administrative Director and Critical Languages Program Coordinator

    Center for Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Cultures

    Faculty Sponsor for Critical Language Application