Requirements: Modern Languages and Literatures

Humanities Division


Placement Examinations

Language placement tests are available to incoming students prior to registration for their first semester. The list of departmental recommendations regarding placement becomes available to faculty advisors as soon as the tests have been processed, to facilitate registration.

Students who have studied more than one foreign language in secondary school and are considering courses in more than one language or literature should take the placement test in the language in which they feel most competent or which they are most likely to continue studying at Kenyon. It is usually possible for students to take a second placement test during Orientation. Arrangements can also be made with individual instructors to determine placement for the other language or languages, including ASL.

Students who have scored 3, 4 or 5 on the College Board Advanced Placement test in language or literature, or 540 or above on the SAT II test in language, need not take a placement examination in that language and will have fulfilled the College's second language proficiency requirement. Kenyon faculty advisors will have a list noting any Advanced Placement credit and will recommend appropriate courses. However, any student who enters Kenyon having already satisfied the language requirement may still take the placement test and is encouraged to do so. It will not affect fulfillment of the requirement but may help faculty to better determine the appropriate course(s) for further study.

Depending on a student's interests, language background, and the results of the placement test, many departmental offerings listed in this catalog are available and appropriate for diversification credit. It is not unusual for students with four to five years of language study in high school to be recommended for a more advanced course (i.e., a course numbered 321 or above), and first-year students can enroll in advanced courses if that is where they place.

Program of Study

New Students

Students new to MLL will want to consider courses appropriate to their level of placement and/or previous coursework in a language. Incoming, first-year students should take the language placement exam and may have additional test scores (AP, SAT II) that can be used. The department structures its curriculum according to a developmental model of the competencies needed to achieve increasing degrees of proficiency. Because of the intensive language model at the first-year level, it is not uncommon for incoming students with no knowledge of language to reach an advanced level of near fluency by graduation in the languages that MLL offers for majors and minors. Beyond the beginning and intermediate levels, students can explore a broad range of offerings on particular content and with focus on more advanced skills, such as writing, discussion and analysis. After the intermediate level, students are prepared for study abroad and are encouraged to meet with MLL faculty to discuss the best options for off-campus study, especially if interested in majoring in MLL.

As outlined below, the program of study presents unique opportunities at each stage, as well as an exciting selection of translation and MLL- designated courses (often team-taught by MLL from different language disciplines) that, in most cases, may be taken at any stage. These courses can be an excellent point of entry for students with limited or no knowledge of a particular language to discover the richness of one or more of the literary and cultural traditions taught in the department. Coursework in MLL, though anchored in language study, is truly about the people, places and artistic production of the languages we teach (ASL, Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish). Focusing on the diverse cultures of these traditions, students can expect to learn about works of visual art, performance, literature, cinema, translation, social movements, politics, history and so much more.

The MLL faculty is composed of accomplished scholars, authors, poets and translators who are committed to preparing students for life after Kenyon. Many graduating seniors, after majoring or minoring in MLL, go on to pursue Fulbright fellowships, graduate programs, teaching positions, diplomacy work, jobs in international relations, humanitarian initiatives and creative writing. Language learning, in these ways, is not an end but rather a point of departure, and we work closely with the Career Development Office (CDO) to ensure that our majors and minors are informed about the many paths an MLL degree can open.

Beginning and Intermediate Levels

Courses numbered 111Y–112Y are beginning language courses, which also satisfy Kenyon's second language proficiency requirement. These courses stress the acquisition of the four basic language skills (oral comprehension, speaking, writing and reading) while incorporating some cultural and/or literary materials. All language courses listed as 111Y–112Y are taught through the KLP, an approach that allows students to gain in one year the proficiency normally acquired after one and a half to two years of non-intensive study. KLP classroom activities stress communication and classes with the professor and typically meet a minimum of 230 minutes per week to account for the 0.75 units/6 semester hour designation. Additionally, with the possible exception of ASL 111Y-112Y, they require sessions with a Kenyon undergraduate teaching assistant, working with a group of approximately six to eight students, usually in the late afternoon or evening. These are arranged during the first days of class each semester. In ASL 111Y-112Y, more informal conversational opportunities typically are arranged outside of regular class hours during semesters when an ASL teaching assistant is not available. 

Courses numbered 213Y–214Y are middle-level or intermediate courses. They continue to develop the basic skills introduced in the beginning-level courses, usually with increasing emphasis on cultural materials, vocabulary and reading skills. Classes usually meet three days per week and, though non-intensive, include one or two additional hours per week with a teaching assistant.

Because both 111Y-112Y and 213Y-214Y are yearlong courses, it is not possible to enroll at the mid-year point and complete only the second semester. The overall grade calculation is an average of the two semesters.

Early Advanced Level

These courses serve as an introduction to more advanced study of literature, film and culture, while continuing the development of language skills. Students are recommended for these courses on the basis of their scores on the placement examination, AP credit or previous coursework.

Depending on placement, these courses and those at the advanced level (see below) may also be appropriate for incoming students in their first year at Kenyon. Consequently, any first-year student who places at the early advanced level or above may enroll directly in the course(s) corresponding to that placement. These courses are most often numbered in the low 320s across eight languages of the department, usually, 321, 322 and/or 323.

Advanced Level

With all other courses at the 300 level (normally, those above 321 or 322), students can select from a number of introduction to literature and more advanced courses, including those on cinema. These courses are seminars that focus on discussion, analytic or creative writing, and close reading.

Courses in Translation

Several language disciplines in MLL offer a selection of courses taught in English translation. Normally numbered in the 220s for literature and 250s for cinema, these courses have no prerequisite and can be taken by students at any time, though they are encouraged for students in the first or second year as a way to gain exposure to the arts, cultures and histories of the language traditions taught in the department. Because they are taught in English, these courses do not fulfill Kenyon's second language proficiency requirement but may be taken by MLL majors to satisfy certain degree requirements.

Special Topics, MLL Courses and Community-Engaged Learning

Each year, faculty in MLL create special topic courses (normally designated in the particular language discipline and numbered 191, 291 or 391). These typically reflect the most recent, ongoing teaching interests of faculty, and they may be offered only once, or eventually added to the permanent curriculum. Similarly, faculty in the department are often developing new MLL-designated courses that are either team-taught across language disciplines or do not correspond directly to any single language discipline because they are designed to be broader or more interdisciplinary. Students who take these courses can receive up to 0.5 units/4 semester hours of credit in the language disciplines of their chosen MLL major (track I, II or III) or, in some cases, toward a minor (with permission of the instructor and depending on the language and proficiency level of the student). Finally, the department also regularly offers CEL courses, either in a particular language discipline as permanent or special topics courses, or as MLL courses. These are connected to a community partner and may also have an internship component.

Requirements for the Major

The Curriculum

Students who major in MLL focus their studies by choosing from among three types of majors:

  1. Literary, cultural and linguistic studies: track I (study in one language)
  2. Literary, cultural and linguistic studies: track II (study in two languages)
  3. Interdisciplinary studies: track III (study in one language in relation to one or more other disciplines)

The specific course of study, is devised by the student in consultation with an MLL faculty advisor, whom the student chooses when declaring the major. This consultation is important for several reasons. Since course offerings vary from one year to the next, depending on the curriculum and staffing, a well-designed plan of study is essential for ensuring that completion of the major is feasible. There may be cases, particularly for track I or track III majors in certain languages with fewer advanced course offerings (such as Italian, for example), in which study abroad and/or summer study are necessary to fulfill the minimum number of courses in the language discipline. In other words, some degree options may not be appropriate for some students. Track III majors will also need to include a short proposal about the interdisciplinary nature of their course of study (see below) when completing the declaration. Such plans may be revised as the student progresses toward the degree but will nevertheless serve as a guide.

All MLL majors must, as part of the Senior Capstone, take a language-competency examination, given during the first semester of the senior year. Track II majors must take an examination in each of their two languages. In addition, all majors must complete the capstone or an honors project.

Students who have received an Advanced Placement exam score of 5 may apply 0.5 units/4 semester hours of credit toward the major or minor in that language. A score of 3 or 4 counts for placement (3 is the equivalent of intro and 4 is the equivalent of intermediate), and does not count for credit toward the major or minor.

Finally, regardless of the MLL major track and language(s) of study, students may apply 0.5 units/4 semester hours of credit from any MLL subject course(s) (courses that are labeled "MLL" rather than a specific language discipline) to the major.

For information about departmental minors, please see below.

Literary, Cultural and Linguistics Studies: Track I (study in one language)

This major cultivates the skills of literary and film analysis and the appreciation of the cultural, sociopolitical and historical contexts for artistic production in various media and genres. It often also takes into consideration the central questions and practice of translation.

Course requirements: eight courses (minimum). Track I majors take at least eight courses of 300-level or equivalent courses in the chosen discipline. In Spanish, a minimum of one pre-1900 and one post-1900 literature course must be taken. 

Track I majors in French, German or Spanish must take at least one semester of "Introduction to Literature" (FREN 323, 324; GERM 325, 326; SPAN 324, 325, 330, 335, 337) or the equivalent course taken off campus (with prior approval by the department), preferably when beginning work toward the major. For other languages, this is optional.

Most other courses should be at the advanced (upper-300) level, except for some cinema courses, most courses taught in English translation and special topics.

Literary, Cultural and Linguistic Studies: Track II (study in two languages)

The aim of this major is twofold: to develop the four language skills (oral comprehension, speaking, writing and reading) in at least two modern languages other than English, and to develop the intercultural competencies that are an integral part of language study.

Course requirements: 10 language courses or culture/literature/film courses in the languages drawn from two MLL disciplines.

Primary language: Students must take at least four courses above the 213Y–214Y level (i.e., advanced-level language courses or culture/literature/film courses taught in the language discipline). A course at the introductory level (111Y–112Y) in the primary language does not count toward this major; with permission of the instructor, courses taught in English translation may.

Secondary language: The number of courses depends on the student's level when beginning study of that language at Kenyon:

  • Students who begin their secondary language at Kenyon by taking 111Y–112Y must take:
    • 111Y–112Y, 213Y–214Y
    • one course (321 or above) taught in the language discipline
  • Students who initially place into the 213Y–214Y course must take at least:
    • 213Y–214Y
    • one course (321 or above) taught in the language discipline
  • Students who initially place into a more advanced course (321 or above) must take at least:
    • three courses above the 213Y–214Y level (in the language discipline)

In all of these cases, at least one course in the secondary language must be taken at Kenyon. 

Interdisciplinary Studies: Track III (study in one language in relation to one or more other disciplines)

This major is designed primarily for students who seek to explore the relations between language and other disciplines, combining advanced work in language, culture and literature taught in the department (or comparable courses taken off campus with MLL approval) with relevant courses in one or more other (secondary) fields. These may include, but are not limited to, anthropology, art, classical studies, drama, economics, film studies, history, music, philosophy, religion, English, international studies, the sciences and women's and gender studies. When declaring the major, the student must submit a brief statement about the plan of study and a list of some possible courses for the requirements outside the language of focus. A required major areas form(pdf) must be completed and submitted to the Registrar's Office, indicating those courses.

Course requirements: 10 MLL courses, six in the language discipline and four outside it and/or in the secondary field(s), as follows:

  • A minimum of six courses above the 213Y–214Y level, normally, taught in the target language, including at least three advanced courses in the specific language discipline of study.
  • A minimum of four courses in MLL and/or in the secondary field(s) related to the focus articulated in the plan of study. Courses offered both at Kenyon (not in MLL) and elsewhere are approved by the advisor and/or the chair on a case-by-case basis.

Senior Capstone

For the MLL capstone, seniors carry out an extended analytical and/or creative project anchored in reflection and thoroughly researched and cited with secondary sources. This two-semester project, partly compiled using a web-based portfolio model, is composed of:

  • prospectus and annotated bibliography
  • first draft
  • final version
  • capstone interview
  • list of MLL courses taken with reflection on plan of study
  • proficiency exam(s)

Note: In connection with these policies on late submissions, all majors are reminded that any approved extensions are determined by the first reader, after notifying both the MLL chair and the senior liaison. The first reader will also notify the chair and senior liaison when a major fails to submit work in accordance with set deadlines and/or extensions. On this basis, a final determination of the consequences for late work will be made, consistent with the policies outlined above. All majors and faculty serving as first readers are thus required to maintain regular communication throughout this process, both with one another, as well as with the MLL chair and the senior liaison, if problems arise.

Read more about the MLL Capstone Experience on the department website.


Especially well-qualified majors may be approved by the advisor and/or a majority vote of the faculty in the discipline (when possible) to pursue honors. Generally during the spring semester, they must enroll in MLL 498 (Senior Honors), which is not a course but does allow for the honors transcript credit and grade. The senior honors enrollment form is available in the Registrar's Office. A substantial portion of the honors project, to be defined by the student and the advisor, should be submitted to the advisor by the end of the first week of the spring semester. The honors thesis is typically written in the target language with a suggested length of 50–75 pages; it is defended during an oral exchange with the discipline and an outside expert in the late spring.

Additional information about honors is available from the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.

Requirements for the Minor

The department provides students with the opportunity to declare a minor in any of the eight languages offered. Because entering students who might want to declare a minor may or may not have had previous experience in the language, we offer three different options.

Option 1: For students who place in introductory language (100 level), the minor requires intensive yearlong introductory, yearlong intermediate, and two courses at the 300 level or equivalent, for a total of 3.5 units/28 semester hours (or six courses).

Option 2: For students who place in intermediate (200 level), the minor requires yearlong intermediate and three courses at the 300 level or equivalent, for a total of 2.5 units/20 semester hours (or five courses).

Option 3: For students who place in advanced (300 level), the minor requires four courses at the 300 level or equivalent, for a total of 2 units/16 semester hours (or four courses).

Additional Requirements for the Minor

  • To declare a minor in a language, students must obtain approval from the chair of MLL and the faculty advisor by the registrar's deadline for declaring a minor.
  • A minimum of two courses toward the minor must be completed in residence.

Transfer Credit Policy

The MLL department will accept a limit of three courses of summer school credit, taken at an approved academic institution, toward the major/minor.

Any courses taken off campus, to be used toward the second language proficiency requirement, must be pre-approved by the MLL department and registrar. For more on this policy, please see the registrar's page.