Wheaton College Color Logo

Choosing a Modern or Classical Language to Study at Wheaton College

The Department of Modern and Classical Languages at Wheaton offers courses in classical languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Latin), French, German, Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish. Many incoming Wheaton students choose to continue studying the foreign language they began in high school. Beginning a new language that might not have been offered in high school, however, could make better sense as a match for student interests and future career aspirations. Furthermore, learning a new language may only demand 1-2 additional semesters of study. Below are listed some points and questions to consider with respect to choosing which world language to study while at Wheaton:

Have you thought about learning a classical language (Hebrew, Greek, Latin)?

Learning to read and interpret original Hebrew, Greek, or Latin texts is extremely beneficial educationally for the following reasons:

  • Cultural Competency: Exploring ancient cultures helps us to better understand our own heritage and history. We learn from those who have gone before us and develop a keener awareness of our own cultural perspectives. As Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Those who have not learned to read the ancient classics in the language in which they were written must have a very imperfect knowledge of the history of the human race.”
  • Linguistic Proficiency: The knowledge of an ancient language, especially of Greek and Latin, is of great benefit for deepening English vocabulary and developing grammatical precision.
  • Biblical Literacy and Theology: God conveyed His message to us in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Proper exegesis demands knowledge of biblical languages. Latin was not only the language of the Roman Empire, but was the language of the Church in the West, of scholarship in Europe, and the theological language of the Protestant Reformers.
  • Foundational for the Liberal Arts: The liberal arts as an educational concept have historical and ideological roots in classical Greek and Roman culture. A knowledge of Greek and/or Latin serves as an excellent point of departure and foundation for undergraduate study in the liberal arts curriculum at Wheaton.
  • Classical Languages at Wheaton College


What about studying French?

In French courses students at Wheaton College increase their understanding and appreciation of, and empathy for, the peoples of the Francophone world through study of the historical, philosophical, religious and artistic development of French and Francophone cultures. Montaigne, Pascal, Descartes, Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Durkheim, Halbwachs, Barthes, Levinas, Deleuze, Ricoeur, Derrida, Lévi-Strauss, Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, Weil, Irigaray…are just a few of the authors you can read in the original French.

Below are listed three more reasons to learn French: (adapted from the Consulate General of France in Houston, Texas)

  • An Important World Language: “More than 200 million people speak French on the five continents and it is the second most widely learned foreign language after English.”
  • Professional Career Marketability: “An ability to speak French and English is tremendous help on the international job market. Knowledge of French opens the doors of French companies in France and other French-speaking parts of the world (Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, and North and sub-Saharan Africa). As the world’s fifth biggest economy and number-three destination for foreign investment, France is a key economic partner.”
  • The Language of Culture: “French is the international language of cooking, fashion, theatre, the visual arts, dance and architecture. A knowledge of French offers access to great works of literature, as well as films and songs, in the original French.”
  • French Language at Wheaton College


Have you ever considered learning German?

Many incoming students are unaware of the benefits of beginning or improving their proficiency in German. Wheaton students often study German because they’re interested in one of the following fields:

  • Business: Germany is the world’s second largest export nation and has the fourth largest overall economy. Nearly 2,000 German companies have a significant U.S. presence—more than 300 in the Chicago area alone—and Germany and Switzerland are among the top five leading nations invested in the United States. Taken together, German- and Swiss-owned companies employ around one million people in the U.S., making them the most significant foreign employers in America.
  • International Relations/Political Science: Germany is the most populous member of the European Union and plays a key role in international bodies such as the G8, the G20, and NATO. More people in Europe speak German as a first language than any other, and it’s the most common second language in all of Europe after English.
  • Theology/Biblical Studies/Archaeology: German theologians have had a major influence on evangelical Protestantism, and speakers of German can read the original works of figures like Martin Luther, Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Many theologians, biblical scholars and archaeologists at Wheaton affirm that after Greek or Hebrew, German is the most important foreign language for their fields of study. At Wheaton, as in many other graduate programs, if you want to do an M.A. or Ph.D. in theology, you have to demonstrate reading knowledge of German.
  • Philosophy and Social Sciences: Scholars who read German don’t need to rely on a translation: they can tackle Kant, Nietzsche, Freud or Weber in the original.
  • Science and Technology: Germany’s current contributions in physics, math, chemistry and engineering are significant. In addition to pursuing numerous research opportunities and grants, a scientist who speaks German can read current articles and books in these fields (only 5% of the 80,000 book titles that appear each year in German are translated into English).
  • Music/Literature/Media: Classical music is almost unthinkable without German composers—think Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. German literature didn’t end with Goethe: a German or Austrian author has won the Nobel Prize for literature twice in the past decade. And German or Austrian movies were among the Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language Film in seven of the past ten years.
  • German language at Wheaton College


What about Mandarin Chinese?

With well over one billion speakers, Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world. China, in turn, occupies a unique status in the 21st century as the center of an ancient civilization that is also an increasingly dominant power in global economics and politics. For students interested in majoring in Business at Wheaton, developing conversational ability in Chinese significantly increases professional marketability.

Mandarin instruction at Wheaton offers students the chance to explore this fascinating culture and language under the guidance of instructors who are intimately familiar with the needs of North American foreign language learners. Students gain a first exposure to Chinese society and are able to advance to a basic proficiency level (and meet the Core Curriculum Foreign Language Requirement) in listening, speaking, reading and writing. Involvement in ministry and service in the Chinese community in the Chicago area and participation in other on- and off-campus academic programs provides students with the opportunity to further develop their linguistic and intercultural skills.

Mandarin Chinese at Wheaton College


Are you interested in exploring Spanish?

The Spanish program at Wheaton offers a wide array of courses on all levels both on campus as well as overseas as part of study abroad programs in Spain, Mexico, and Costa Rica. Students who choose to study Spanish increase their understanding, appreciation, and empathy for the peoples of Hispanic cultures through not only classroom instruction, but through personal interaction with native speakers of Spanish in the United States and abroad.

Spanish Language at Wheaton College


Where do I start?

If you have never had any of the aforementioned languages before, you can enroll this fall in a 101-level course in Mandarin Chinese, French, German, or Spanish, or in an elementary-level ancient language course (Greek 101, Latin 101, or Hebrew 301). Remember, 101-level courses are only offered in the fall.

If you studied Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Latin, Koine Greek or Ancient Hebrew in high school, you must take a language placement test to register for a language class.

Also, if you have any other questions about our range of programs offered in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, please feel free to contact me as the chair of the department. I’d be glad to assist you in any way that I can.

In His Service,

Grant Henley, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of German
Chair, Department of Modern and Classical Languages
E-mail: grant.henley@wheaton.edu
Phone: 630.752.5795