Requirements: Modern Languages and Literatures

Humanities Division


Placement Examinations

During the Orientation Program, language placement tests will be made available to incoming students. The list of departmental recommendations regarding placement will be made available to faculty advisors as soon as the tests have been processed, in order 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 in the time period allotted for placement tests during orientation. Arrangements can also be made with individual instructors to determine placement for the other language or languages.

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 with prior test scores (as outlined here) may still take the placement test and is encouraged to do so. It will not affect fulfillment of the language 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, and 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. 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. In addition, 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. In fact, 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. Indeed, coursework in MLL, though anchored in language study, is truly about the people, places and artistic production of the eight languages we teach (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 our students for life after Kenyon. Many of our 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 introductory language courses listed as 111Y–112Y are taught through the Kenyon Intensive Language Model (except Arabic), an approach that allows students to gain in one year the linguistic competence and cultural literacy normally acquired after one and a half to two years of non-intensive study. KILM classroom activities stress communication and classes with the professor typically meet four to five times per week. Additionally, there are three to four required sessions with a Kenyon undergraduate Apprentice Teacher, 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.

Courses numbered 213Y–214Y are middle-level or intermediate courses. These courses continue to develop the basic skills introduced in the beginning-level courses, usually with increasing emphasis on cultural materials, vocabulary and reading skills. The classes usually meet three days per week, and though non-intensive, have one or two additional hours per week with the Apprentice Teacher.

Early Advanced Level

The following 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 in the language.

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, and 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.

ARBC 321 Advanced Arabic
CHNS 321 Advanced Chinese Language and Culture
CHNS 322 Advanced Chinese Language and Culture
FREN 321 Advanced Composition and Conversation
GERM 321 Advanced Composition and Conversation
ITAL 321 Advanced Italian
JAPN 321 Advanced Japanese Language and Culture
RUSS 321 Advanced Russian
RUSS 322 Advanced Russian Language and Literature
SPAN 321 Literature and Film: Advanced Writing in Spanish

Advanced Level

At the 300 level (normally above 321), 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 also 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 years 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 topics courses (normally designated in the particular language discipline and numbered 191, 291, or 391). These are new courses that 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 that do not correspond directly to any single language discipline because they are designed to be broader or more interdisciplinary. Students who take these MLL courses can receive degree credit (max .5 units) 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 Community-Engaged Learning courses, either in a particular language discipline as permanent or special topics courses or as MLL courses. These are courses connected to a community partner that 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, which constitutes each of these major tracks, is devised by the student in consultation with an MLL faculty advisor, whom the student chooses when declaring the major. This consultation between the student and the student’s MLL advisor is important for several reasons. Since course offerings will vary from one year to the next depending on the curriculum and staffing, a well-designed plan of study is essential for ensuring that the completion of the student’s preferred major in Track I, II or III is feasible, in light of the courses required and actual courses offered within the time frame toward degree completion. There may be cases, particularly for Track I majors in certain languages, where study abroad and/or summer study are necessary in order to fulfill the minimum number of courses in the language discipline. In other words, some degree options, depending on the desired Track (I, II or III) and/or language(s), may not be appropriate for some students. Hence, when declaring a major in MLL, no matter the Track (I, II, or II), students must draft a viable plan of study (anticipated courses by semester) toward completion of the degree with the MLL advisor and have this plan approved by the MLL Chair. Track III majors will also need to include a short proposal about the interdisciplinary nature of their course of study (see below). Such plans may be revised as the student progress toward the degree but will nevertheless serve as a guide.

All students majoring in the department must, as part of the Senior Capstone, take a language-competency examination, given at the beginning of the senior year. Track II majors must take an examination in each of their two languages. In addition, all students majoring in the department must submit a written project (either a research paper for the Senior Capstone or an honors thesis).

Students who have received an Advanced Placement score of 4 or 5 in language may apply a half (0.5) unit of credit toward a major in Track II or III. Students who have received an Advanced Placement score of 4 or 5 in literature may apply a half (0.5) unit of credit to any one of the three majors.

Finally, regardless of the MLL major Track (I, II or III) and language(s) of study, students may apply a half (0.5) unit of credit from any MLL subject course(s) 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, socio-political, 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 a minimum of eight courses of 300-level or equivalent courses in the chosen discipline. Depending on the language of study, they also may need to take courses covering a certain range of time periods, according to their chosen discipline: in French, a minimum of one pre-1800 and one post-1800 literature course (which can also be satisfied with the "Introduction to Literature" sequence); in Spanish, a minimum of one pre-1900 and one post-1900 literature course. 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; for all other languages, this requirement is optional) or the equivalent course taken off campus (with prior approval by the department), preferably when they begin their work toward the major. Because they tend to cover larger periods of time, "Introduction to Literature" courses normally do not fulfill the time-period requirement described above for French and Spanish; however, if a majority of the works studied in a particular "Introduction to Literature" course were written within the time frame of the requirement (either pre- or post-1800 for French, pre- or post-1900 for Spanish), then the course could fulfill the requirement by petition and with faculty approval. Most other courses should be at the advanced level (i.e., upper 300-level), with the exception of some courses in translation, cinema or special topics.

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

The aim of this major program 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 disciplines within MLL are required.

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, minimum). A course at the introductory level (111Y–112Y) in the student's primary language does not count toward this major; however, with permission of instructor, courses in 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), however, must take at least:
    • three courses above the 213Y–214Y level (i.e., three semesters of coursework taught in the language discipline at an advanced level)

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 program 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 of MLL (or MLL comparable courses taken off campus with MLL approval) with studies 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. As part of the declaration of the major, the student will submit to the MLL department chair a 250-word written statement — prepared in consultation with the major advisor — articulating a coherent plan of study. This plan, accompanied by a list of courses, will specify the student's areas of interest both within and outside of MLL and may focus on: texts representing a geographical area; a time period; a genre represented in the MLL curriculum (novels, essays, poems, plays, short stories, testimonials, films and works of visual art), and disciplines or themes to be concentrated on outside of MLL. This statement of the plan of study will be used as a guide and may be revised in consultation with the major advisor as the student progresses toward the degree.

The Senior Capstone (see description below) in the Interdisciplinary Studies of  Track III offers the opportunity to combine the chosen disciplinary perspective(s) and language focus in a culminating written project. Recent examples of Senior Capstone essays in Track III include:

  • cultural preservation in ethnic minority Chinese writing (Chinese)
  • gender, ethnicity and nationhood in West African women's writing (Francophone)
  • stylistic and thematic intersections between Cubist art and poetry in early 20th century France (French)
  • the history of the Berlin Wall and its significance for both East and West Berliners (German)
  • perspectives on music under National Socialism in the representation of the "Comedian Harmonists" in Joseph Vilsmaier's film "The Harmonists" (1997) (German) 
  • influences of Italian immigrant artists on American artistic expression in the early 20th century (Italian)
  • sociocultural contexts of the all-female musical Takarazuka Revue in Japanese society (Japanese)
  • censorship in the former Soviet Union as seen through the evolution of Nikolai Zabolotskii's poetry (Russian)
  • male homosexuality and changing ideas of the family through Mexican film (Spanish)
  • avant-garde art of 1947-56 in the context of cultural politics of the Franco regime (Spanish)

Course requirements: 10 courses  This  major requires 10 courses: six courses in the language discipline within the MLL Department and four courses in MLL (outside the primary language discipline used for the six courses) and/or in the secondary field(s), as follows:

  • In MLL, 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 (i.e., Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish).
  • In MLL (outside the primary language discipline used for the six courses) and/or in the secondary field(s), a minimum of four courses related to the focus articulated in the plan of study. Courses offered both at Kenyon (not in MLL) and outside Kenyon will be approved by the MLL department advisor and/or the Chair on a case-by-case basis.

Senior Capstone

With the MLL Capstone, seniors will 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, will be composed of:

  • Prospectus and Annotated Bibliography
  • First draft
  • Final version
  • Oral exchange
  • List of MLL Courses Taken with Reflection on Plan of Study
  • Proficiency Exam(s)

Irrespective of Major Track (I, II, III), students typically undertake this project in the target language of the primary language of study, though in consultation with the First Reader, writing in English may also an option. In the fall semester of the senior year students will take a proficiency exam in their primary (and secondary, if applicable) languages of study. Because the MLL recommended benchmarks are language-specific, students are encouraged to discuss their target scores with their MLL faculty adviser(s) in the language(s) of study prior to the exam, and after taking the exam, to meet again to review and interpret these scores. All MLL majors receive detailed descriptions of the above components and are supported in the process by the MLL Senior Liaison and other MLL faculty.

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 and will be required to enroll in MLL 498 Senior Honors, generally during the spring semester. 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 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 we offer (Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian or Spanish). Because entering students who might want to declare a minor may or may not have had previous experience in the language, we offer two different minor tracks within the department.

1. For students who have had limited or no previous instruction in a language, the minor will consist of:

  • a minimum of five courses in the minor, of which two courses are above the 213Y–214Y level.

In this case, please note that this means a student who chooses to pursue a minor will have to begin his or her study of the language at Kenyon before the junior year.

2. For students who have had significant experience in the language, and who have placed (normally by an Advanced Placement test score or a Kenyon placement test) into a 300-level course, the minor consists of a minimum of four courses of 300-level or equivalent courses (see below).

With respect to 200- or 300-level courses in the discipline of the minor which may be offered in English translation (such courses on literature, film or culture), students may apply up to a half (0.5) unit of those classes to the minor. The remaining course(s) must be taken in the target language.

In cases of limited course availability, off-campus study may be necessary in order to complete a minor. Students interested in these minors, therefore, are strongly encouraged to undertake study abroad, as are all students in MLL.

Students should not expect to fulfill the requirements for the minor by registering for Individual Study.

Additional Requirements for the Minor

  • In order to declare a minor in a language, students must obtain approval for the minor from the chair of MLL and from the faculty advisor by the end of the second full week of the first semester of their senior year, at the latest.
  • Students must pass a language-competency test appropriate to minors, administered in the fall semester of their senior year.
  • 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 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 at Kenyon, must be pre-approved by the MLL department and registrar prior to taking the course. For more on this policy, please see the registrar's page, where all guidelines are given.