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Languages

During the first semester first year students of International Studies are required to pick an area and a language to specialize in. After starting the programme with a broad range of introductory core courses, students will follow area courses and language training in the second semester and the subsequent two years.

Languages

On this page you can find an overview of the languages you can choose from.

Arabic is one of the official languages of the United Nations and 27 countries, third after English and French.  It is spoken through North Africa and Middle East, and is a minority language in sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey and Iran.  Because of its association with Islam, it is learnt as a second language and understood by large populations across the world.  It is the fifth most commonly used language in the world, spoken by some 400 million natively, and another 300 million non-natives.

Learning Arabic gives you insight to the language and culture of Europe’s nearest neighbours, and a minority of more than six million Europeans.   The vast expanse of the area where Arabic is used offers remarkable cultural and linguistic diversity. 

Corresponding areas: Africa, Middle East.

Dutch is the third Germanic language and officially spoken in the Netherlands, Belgium, Surinam, Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and the Dutch Caribbean. With its approximately 23 million speakers world wide, Dutch is about the same size as Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Frisian taken all together and is in eighth place in the ranking of the languages of the European Union, if you compile it based on the number of native speakers.

As Dutch is the official language of the immediate environment you study and live in, its status as part of the BA International Studies is a special one: next to being taught as a vehicle for getting closer to the sources of your area of specialization, it is also taught as a language to get by in your daily life.

If you’re interested in accessing the local news sources, learning how aspects of Dutch mindset might reflect itself in the language or aspire a career within an international organization connected to the Netherlands, Dutch is the right choice for you!  

Corresponding area: Europe.

If you are interested in a career in any international organization, learning French would be a good idea!

French is the language of diplomacy, it is one of the official and working languages of the United Nations, the European Union, UNESCO, NATO, the International Olympic Committee, the International Red Cross and international courts.

French is a Romance language descended directly from the common Latin of the Roman Empire. French is the 5th most spoken language and there are 300 million French speakers worldwide. French is spoken by 12% of the European Union’s population. In Africa more than 115 million people in the Francophone countries can speak French. In Canada French is the most common language after English. There are also French speakers in Asia, the Middle East, South America and Oceania.

A knowledge of French offers access to famous French writers of literature, in the original French, as well films, media, scientific journal articles and songs. An ability to understand the French language offers an alternative view of the world through communication with French speakers from all over the world. 

Learning French can open a great number of new cultural and professional horizons for you!    

Corresponding areas: Africa, Europe, North America.

German is spoken by more than 160 Million people worldwide and is the most spoken native language in the EU. German is spoken in the D-A-CH countries: Deutschland (Germany) – Austria – SCHweiz (Switzerland). Furthermore, you find native speakers in Belgium, Luxembourg, Eastern France, South Tyrol and in Liechtenstein. And worldwide there are countries where German is a national minority language.

German is a key language in the EU and the economies in Central and Eastern Europe. In some international organizations German is one of the working languages, e.g. the European Patent Office, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Commission, European Space Agency.

German belongs to the Indo-Germanic language group, like English and Dutch. When learning German, you will see that there are still many parallels between the languages.

The German language is a very rich language in terms of vocabulary: German consists of about 5.3 million words of which in everyday conversation about 12,000 to 16,000 words are used. German contains about eight times as many words as English. Talking about vocabulary: The German language is world champion in creating the longest word which has 63 letters: Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz.

Corresponding area: Europe

Hindi (an Indo-European language) is the 3rd most widely spoken language of the world. It is mainly spoken in India (where it is the official language of the union), and also among large Indian diasporas in Europe, North America, Australia & the Middle East. Proficiency in this critical language is the key to unlocking access not only to a huge market, but also to a cultural treasure trove of literature, cinema, music, & much more. Knowledge of Hindi is crucial for a range of careers relating to south Asia and its rapidly changing society. Hindi is written in Devanagari script which it shares with several other south Asian languages like Sanskrit, Nepali, Marathi, Sindhi, Pali etc.

Corresponding area: South and Southeast Asia.

Street view India

Indonesian (an Austronesian language) is the 6th most widely spoken language of the world. With number of speakers of more than 200 million, it is the national language of the Republic of Indonesia. It was developed from Malay, the lingua franca of different ethnic groups that live in the archipelagic parts of Southeast Asia region, from Southern Thailand to Southern Philippines, from the island of Sumatra to the island of Papua, from  the Malaysia’s capital of Kuala Lumpur to the Republic of Timor Leste’s capital of Dili. The Malay (predecessor of Indonesian) has been taught in Leiden University since the second half of nineteenth century. Indonesian is written in Latin script. It has no tenses, so learning it is perhaps easier for foreigners. Knowledge of Indonesian is essential for a range of careers relating to Southeast Asia, one of the world’s regions that shows significant economic growth. Proficiency in this language is a beneficial means for true travelers who want to enjoy the vast diverse cultures, ethnicities, and beautiful nature of more than 20.000 islands scattered somewhere between Indian and Pacific Ocean and between Asia’s mainland and Australia.

Corresponding area: South and Southeast Asia.

Japanese is an East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people primarily living in Japan. It shares a similar grammar with neighboring Korean, and one of its three writing systems (Kanji) is borrowed from Chinese. Although it is not a UN language and is rarely spoken in Europe, the worlds of games, anime and manga are full of Japanese. Even if you are not a keen gamer, you may well have played Pokemon or Final Fantasy, eaten ‘sushi’ or been to a karaoke bar - all these are of course Japanese creations. Yet while technologically advanced and highly developed, Japan is also a country that respects its long history, traditional arts, and ancient values. Discover Japan!

Corresponding area: East Asia.

The Korean language is spoken by approximately 76 million people on the Korean peninsula (51 million in South Korea and 25 million in North Korea) and by a global Korean diaspora of around 7.4 million people. While Korean is the official and national language of the two Koreas, standard South Korean is based on the speech of Seoul and standard North Korean on the speech of Pyongyang. Both standard languages are mutually intelligible, although there exists a considerable linguistic gap due to decades of separation. The precise origin of the Korean language remains uncertain whereas the invention of the Korean alphabet in 1443 is clearly documented. The Korean script, Hangul, consists of 24 letters (10 vowels and 14 consonants).

Corresponding area: East Asia.

Behind North Korean leader (left) and South Korean President at the 2018 Inter-Korean summit is a poem of the 15-century creation of the Korean alphabet.

Originating from Northern dialects with Beijing phonology as its standard pronunciation, Mandarin or Standard Mandarin is a standard variety of Chinese.  It has official status in mainland China, Taiwan and also Singapore. It is claimed to be the most widely spoken language in the world and is used as one of the working languages of the United Nations. Mandarin is a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. The fact that the Mandarin tone system and writing system with Chinese characters are so different from some European languages is fascinating and yet challenging for some language learners. Learning Mandarin will open a door for you to experience Asia and may offer you exciting working or travelling opportunities.

Corresponding area: East Asia.

Modern Hebrew is the official language of the State of Israel, related to Arabic, Ethiopian and other Semitic languages. Hebrew is also the traditional language of Judaism, in which not only the Bible (i.e., the ‘Old Testament’) was written, but also an enormous corpus of religious and non-religious literature  composed by Jews throughout more than 2000 years. Through knowledge of Hebrew, therefore, a whole new world of thought and history will open up.

The grammar of Hebrew is not too difficult, and so it will not take an enormous effort to actually learn the language.

Knowledge of Hebrew is obviously useful for any studies related to modern Israel, but in addition there is a sizeable amount of scholarly literature in Hebrew on all aspects of the Middle East, its politics, its economy and its history.

Corresponding area: Middle East.

Persian is an Indo-European language. It is the official language of Iran and one of the most spoken languages of the Middle East. In addition to Iran, Persian is spoken in parts of other countries such as Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

By learning Persian, you will be able to study hundreds of years of rich Persian literature, such as works of Rumi and Khayyam, as well as explore cultural and historical aspects of not only Iran but also the other countries in which this language is or was spoken. In addition, learning Persian will provide you with the necessary linguistic skills to study the current affairs of the country including its contemporary history and Iran's significance in the region.

Upon completion of the courses, you will have gained important knowledge about the Persian language and culture, which will allow you to pursue your academic interests in Persian/Iran related subjects or develop your linguistic skills to work in a wide range of professional contexts such as translation, journalism and media, humanitarian institutions or other similar organisations.

Corresponding area: Middle East.

There isn’t a Portuguese language. There are many languages in Portuguese.
José Saramago (Nobel prize winner for literature)

Due to the Portuguese colonial empire, Portuguese became one of the first global languages back in the XV century. Today this is still true and you can connect with dozens of countries and cultures with just one language. By learning Portuguese you are also connecting to a language that still shapes global events and history. 

Portuguese is the 7th most spoken language in the world and the most spoken language in the southern hemisphere. Portuguese is an official language in four different continents: Europe, America, Africa and Asia. It is also one of the most varied languages in the world with Latin, Visigothic, Arab and African influences.

Portuguese is just a name, it doesn't belong to Portugal. Therefore, it also doesn’t have one way of being spoken and used. In Portuguese classes you will connect with its many forms and sounds and you can expect to:

  • Learn the necessary vocabulary and grammar of the language, with practical applications.
  • Have weekly quizzes and assignments for continuous results.
  • Apply your language skills (only Portuguese is allowed in class from the 2nd level)
  • Connect with the music, food, art, cinema and culture of 4 different continents.
  • Actively participate with your colleagues in group assignments, debates and games.
  • Have fun! (em Português…)

By the end of your third semester, you will be welcome in Brazil as well as in China or Angola. 
And, of course, Portugal… provavelmente.

Find more interesting information in this flyer.

Corresponding areas: Africa, Europe, Latin America.

Why Russian?

  • It is a lingua franca in the Post-Soviet region.
  • It allows you to have conversations with locals, to understand news and the environment around you all over Eastern Europe.
  • Learning Russian is an asset in the labor market once that there are not many professionals with Russian language proficiency.
  • Winter trip to Russia in the second year.

Russian course

  • The step from learning the alphabet to having a degree of self-sufficiency is not so large. 
  • Besides practicing skills, you will also have a solid grammatical and lexical foundation.
  • Although the language seems to be as hard as Arabic or Chinese, Russian is manageable to learn as long as you are committed to it.
  • Year 1: you will learn the most basic and useful language constructions and phrases.
  • Year 2: The main objective of the course is to link Russian with other disciplines such as culture, history, politics and economics.
  • The final objective of this course is to obtain an intermediate level of proficiency in Russian, aimed at communication with people in the region in everyday social situations and enabling students to follow current affairs in the region via various media.

Corresponding area: Russia and Eurasia.

Spanish is the sec­ond most na­tively-spo­ken lan­guage in the world, af­ter Man­darin Chi­nese. Although the vast majority of Spanish speakers reside in the Americas and Europe, there are people who speak Spanish in other parts of the world as well: in The Philippines, in Equatorial Guinea and also in territories in northern Africa and in Morocco.    

The Spanish-speaking population continues to grow in quantity as well as culturally, economically and socially importance:  Spanish will open the door to many cultures and people who speak it as a first or as a second language, and will make you a particularly valuable asset to employers wishing to work with Spain and Latin America.

Did you know…?

  • Spanish belongs to the family of Romance languages, which also includes French, Italian, Portuguese or Catalan.
  • Spanish is the second language of the United States.
  • Mex­ico con­tains the largest pop­u­la­tion of Span­ish speak­ers.
  • If you know how a word is spelled in Spanish, you can almost always know how it is pronounced (although the reverse is not true).
  • Although Spanish originated on the Iberian Peninsula as a descendant of Latin, today it is has far more speakers in Latin America.
  • Spanish and English share much of their vocabulary through cognates, as both languages derive many of their words from Latin and/or Greek.
  • Span­ish is one of the six of­fi­cial lan­guages of the United Na­tions.

Corresponding areas: Europe, Latin America, North America.

Spanish fun facts

Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, is a Bantu language which is widely used in East Africa as a lingua franca. It is a national language in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and DRC and is spoken in parts of Rwanda and Burundi. It is the official language of the East African Community. In 2020 Swahili will also be taught in South African class rooms.

The exact number of Swahili speakers varies but estimates ranges from 80 to 100 million. Native speakers live along the coast but there are many second language speakers in and outside Africa.

Swahili is used by the media, politicians and musicians. As language and culture are so much intertwined you will understand the African culture better by knowing Swahili. It will give you acces to a different kind of Africa.

Karibu sana! You are most welcome!

Corresponding area: Africa.

Areas and languages

The language you choose has to correspond with your area specialisation. Here you can find an overview of the areas with the corresponding languages.

Area Foreign Language
Africa Arabic, French, Portuguese, Swahili
East Asia Japanese, Korean, Mandarin
Europe Dutch, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish
Latin America Portuguese, Spanish
Middle East Arabic, Modern Hebrew, Persian
North America French, Spanish
Russia and Eurasia Russian
South and Southeast Asia Hindi, Indonesian
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