Language Courses


If you are one of those who "crave exposure to cultures, beliefs, histories of the earth's people," why not start at the "cradle of civilization" and learn one of the languages of the region. Or, you might want to follow the pipeline dealings in the Caucasus, join Turkish or Israeli entrepreneurs reopening old trade routes to Central Asia, or experience first hand the course of democracy in North Africa.

The Languages

Princeton offers language instruction in Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, and Turkish, the four major languages of the Near East. "Near East," however, is a rather arbitrary appellation considering that these languages will also open doors in North Africa, Afghanistan, Baku, or Sinkiang. The population in the Near East might be just under 300 million, but the languages of the region are used by millions more around the globe because of religion and culture.

The Department

We are a department with a long and distinguished tradition at Princeton. Our students receive an unusual amount of personal attention. The language program is usually supplemented by study in the Near East or North Africa. The language programs are well articulated vertically, building on prior learning and thus making efficient use of time.

Near Eastern Studies prides itself on the availability of its faculty, the richness of the library holdings, and the infinite variety of topics for independent research project for a junior or senior paper, in which many times the student will be doing original work.

The programs also promote horizontal articulation, connecting to other fields such as comparative literature, history, or women's studies, encouraging use of the language. The Near Eastern collections in the library are second to none, so that authentic sources—whether for language learning or research—are close at hand. The language-teaching faculty is committed to authenticity, accuracy, and creativity in use of language, readily incorporating technology or new methodologies into language instruction when effectiveness is proven. There is a broad selection of outside classroom activities, including film series, with or without subtitles, and language tables meeting for lunch or dinner where students converse informally in their chosen language.

Why Study Language?

Leaving the many pragmatic reasons for language learning aside, consider this: language is the most remarkable of all human creations, a fascinating subject of study. In our languages, you will find an amazing linguistic variety to choose from.

You will very quickly feel comfortable in Persian despite of the initially very alien garb, because it is a language related to English. Hebrew and Arabic, sister languages, function in an entirely different mode based on inflection, as in English sing/sang/sung/song/singer expressing five different things having to do with 'singing'. Then there is Turkish, which belongs to a completely different language family where meanings are 'glued onto' a root, as in English care+less+ness. Except that in Turkish, tense, personal markers, cases, all are combined in this manner. Do these structural differences mean anything? Linguists and cultural historians still debate such questions. In Near Eastern studies, you can grapple with this issue firsthand.

You are well aware that our global society needs citizens who can function in more than one language.

Whether you plan on a transition from school to work, or from school to further education, you can't quite predict when your new language will come in handy as the new baseball coach of a Japanese team found out: he would have preferred to deal with the umpire without an interpreter.


The Department of Near Eastern Studies regularly offers Arabic on the first-, second-, and third-year levels. In addition, an Advanced Arabic Skills Workshop trains advanced students (fourth year and above) in speaking, writing, and quantity reading in Arabic. Colloquial Arabic is also offered every year. The dialect taught is determined by the available staff: currently Levantine Arabic is being taught, but Egyptian has also been taught frequently in the past.

Arabic language learning is enhanced by a weekly Arabic lecture offered by invited scholars in diverse fields of study, as well as an Arab writers series in which Arab authors are invited for a lecture or seminar. In addition, organized outings to Arab restaurants and in-class samplings of Arab food give students a literal and figurative "taste" of Arab culture. A number of study abroad programs, in addition to the hugely successful Middlebury summer Arabic program, are available to students of Arabic. Princeton students have participated in programs in Morocco, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. The majority study at the American University in Cairo because of its fine reputation in Arabic teaching, either for a summer or a full year with a select group of teachers and tutors. For information about summer Arabic study, click here.

Because of the comprehensive nature of its program, the department is able to accommodate the needs of students who come to us with some prior exposure to the language. A number of Arab-American students who have grown up hearing the language are able to round out their knowledge of the language by learning to read and write in the appropriate course from among our offerings.


The teaching of Hebrew at Princeton is extremely dynamic. At every stage of study, students are fully involved. To be sure, at the first stages of language study students absorb passively, as they fill their linguistic reservoirs, with Hebrew vocabulary and grammatical forms. Quickly, however, this passive absorption is transformed into an active posture, as the students become full partners in the learning process in class. The teaching is accompanied by the use of audio-cassettes, video-cassettes, films, and music. These tools help create direct contact with the authentic language.

In terms of texts: we use a textbook for grammar and vocabulary, an Israeli newspaper, a series of stories about life and personalities in Israel, as well as numerous conversations about topics of current interest. These include the kibbutz and the city, man and nature, immigration to Israel and the absorption of new immigrants, historical figures, and modern and biblical Hebrew. The goal is to present authentic subjects that are tied to Jewish tradition, history, and present-day culture, while at the same time instilling the desire to enrich one's knowledge later on. Students wishing to develop their knowledge of the language further are able to benefit from various programs in Israel during summer vacations or during a semester (or year) of foreign study in one of the Israeli universities, such as Hebrew University, or Tel Aviv University..

The teaching of Hebrew at Princeton is thus an intellectual, emotional, and experiential challenge that one ought not to miss.


Persian is the vehicle of a rich and varied culture which, in the course of its long history, has often extended beyond the borders of modern Iran into Anatolia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and India. Three modern dialects of Persian are currently the national language of Iran (Farsi), Afghanistan (Dari), and the new Republic of Tajikistan (Tajiki). Moreover, Ottoman Turkish and the classical literary languages of Uzbek and Urdu have all been heavily influenced by Persian.

The Department of Near Eastern Studies offers instruction in both modern and classical Persian, and from the most elementary level to the most advanced. In the first two years (Persian 101–107) students learn to speak, read and write the Persian of contemporary Iran. They are then ready both to take more advanced courses in modern Persian literature (NES 540), and to go on to the study of classical Persian poetry and prose (Persian 301, NES 539). Readings in advanced courses vary from year to year depending on the interests of the students and instructor. Princeton regularly sends students to summer intensive courses in beginning and intermediate Persian courses at various sites in the U.S. Instruction in Persian is complemented by a number of courses in the NES Department on Iranian history and culture, and the history and culture of the Near East in general.


Princeton offers instruction in Modern Turkish and Ottoman Turkish, its historical predecessor. Turkish can be the vehicle for future study of the Turks of Central Asia and the Caucasus, an area rapidly opening up to Americans. In addition to a rich and varied literature, Turkish offers the student the opportunity to study from the inside the long and exhilarating history of the Turks in the Near East, from 1100 to the present. All language skills are stressed. Authentic language is introduced early to instill familiarity and thus put the learner at ease. Use of computer based multi-media learning aids—accessible in the dorms as well as in the language lab—and distribution of visual prompts for weekly writing assignments and other informational resources on the World Wide Web have been very effective.

There are several intensive summer language programs for Turkish in the United States as well as in Turkey, such as Boğaziçi University’s summer program in Istanbul and Ankara University's certificate program in various locations in Turkey and Cyprus. Yearlong or one semester study abroad programs have also been arranged with Boğaziçi University. Often, summer internships with scientific projects, business, the media, or the Foundation for Women's Study in Istanbul, can be arranged for a total immersion into the culture.