World Languages for Study Abroad

Why study another language? 

Each year, Purdue sends about 1500 students abroad.  Many of our programs do not require high levels of foreign language ability.  However, there are many reasons to have at least basic knowledge of the language of your host country, even if this is not required.

  • Making an effort to speak the language of your host country shows good will toward the people of that country.  Just being able to say excuse me, hello, please and thank you in the local language will make friends for you anywhere.
  • Even a very basic level of language skill will allow you to learn and appreciate things that you would not otherwise understand. 
  • A modest level of language skill can be of vital importance in an emergency situation. 
  • After your experience abroad, you may well find that your few words of Mandarin or Spanish (for example) are of great help to incoming exchange students at Purdue or to someone trying to get through an airport.
  • Americans are notoriously unilingual.  If you speak even a little of another language, you may be the most qualified person in your company to get international travel assignments.

How to learn? 

The most successful way to learn languages is through a combination of classroom instruction, study and real-world practice. 


Purdue has an excellent School of Languages and Literatures (SLC) that can provide you with high-quality instruction.

However, if you cannot register for a class for the semester or a summer, consider other sources of classes such as ABC Language Exchange Virtual Language Lessons, the Confucius Institute (for Chinese) or the Purdue International Center.

Conversation partners 

If you already have some level of familiarity with a foreign language, it may be helpful for you to practice your skills with a native speaker.  You may be able to arrange to trade instruction with an international student through the International Friendship Program, International Center, or through the PASSPORT organization.

Self-study  courses  

There are hundreds of foreign language self-study programs on the market.  Some things to know before buying one:

  • Prices vary from $20 to $500
  • The approaches of the courses vary greatly
  • Some are audio-only (for example, those meant to be listened to in your car), others include books, DVDs or CD ROMs
  • Many are available to be borrowed from libraries

Online sources 

The web provides a multitude of opportunities to learn the basics of another language, or to build on knowledge gained from previous study.  What follows is a selection of sites that provide insight into how various languages function.

Free, online tutorials - multiple languages

Free, online tutorials - individual languages (listed alphabetically)

The following are resources for learning languages used in some of the countries where Purdue has study abroad programs.  Before leaving on your international program, take the time to learn the basics of the language of the country you will visit.


Arabic is spoken by at least 200 million people as a first language in the Middle East and Africa, and by a roughly equal number as a second language.

Arabic varies greatly from country to country; try to study the version spoken in the country you want to visit or the version referred to as Modern Standard Arabic.


Basque or Euskara is one of the oldest languages in Europe and is spoken by about half a million people in the Pyrenees region of Europe.


Cantonese is one of the main languages of China, spoken by 70 million people in the south-eastern part of the country including Hong Kong.


Danish is spoken by about 5 million people in Denmark and a million elsewhere.


Dutch is the primary language of about 20 million people in the Netherlands, the northern part of Belgium, Suriname and some of the Caribbean islands colonized by the Dutch.


Esperanto is an invented language, intended as an easy-to-learn international means of communication.

Interlingua and Novial are other invented languages.


French is the first language of approximately 70 million people in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada, and is spoken by about 50 million others as a second language in Africa and other parts of the world.


German is the primary language of approximately 95 million people in central and western Europe, and as a second language by about 28 million people in the same region and throughout the world.


Greek is spoken by approximately 12 million people in Greece and Cyprus.


Hindi is the first language of about 180 million people in Asia and a second language to an additional 300 million.

Hindi is one of the national languages of India, along with English.


Hebrew is spoken by approximately 5 million people in Israel and neighboring areas, and by several hundred thousand others throughout the world.


Italian is spoken by approximately 55 million people in Italy and about 7 million people in oher countries.


Japanese is spoken by approximately 122 million people in Japan and about 8 million in other countries.


Korean is spoken by approximately 62 million people on the Korean Peninsula and by about 16 million in other countries.


Mandarin is the main language of China, spoken as a first language there and in other countries by over 870 million people. It is used as a second language by about 180 million others.


Polish is spoken by approximately 38 million people in Poland and by about 4 million elsewhere.


Portuguese is spoken by approximately 178 million people: 10 million in Portugal, 158 million in Brazil, and roughly 10 million in Portugal's former African and island colonies.


Romani is the language of the roma, or Gypsies, spoken by 5 to 10 million people.


Russian is the primary language of at least 145 million people in Russia and neighboring areas.  It is spoken as a second language by tens of millions of others.


Spanish is the primary language of at least 350 million people in Europe, Latin Anerica and North America.  It is spoken as a second language by at least 65 million of others.


Swahili is a major language of East Africa, spoken by approximately 5 million people as a first language and by approximately 30 million more as a second language.


Swedish is spoken by approximately 9 million people in Sweden and Finland.


Thai is the primary language of 20 million people in Thailand and the second language of about 40 million more.


Turkish is spoken by approximately 50 million people, 45 million in Turkey and 5 million elsewhere.


Urdu is the first language of approximately 60 million people, primarily in Pakistan and India, and is used as a second language by about 45 million more.