Do people often pick up completely new languages in college, or are language classes in college largely full of people who have been studying it or are familiar with it through their family background? Do most colleges have bad language instruction, kind of like most high schools, or does it really vary? I know Tufts, Middlebury, Dickinson are known for languages… Bryn Mawr has Latin… I love love love languages and I’m actually pretty good at them but my high school language instruction ranges from pretty good to laughable, such that I’ll FEEL like I know spanish one semester and then not the next, due to bad teachers. I am semi-fluent in Hebrew, proficient in spanish, and interested in so many languages for college, especially Arabic and Latin (just for fun). But I don’t intend to major in a language, I just really want to learn languages…I’m so all over the place! I think I need to go to a school like Brown (god willing) with an open curriculum so I can explore stuff. Anyone learned languages in college that they’d never been exposed to before without majoring in the language?
College curricula may offer direct instruction in languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Latin, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. You can begin any of these with elementary instruction, or you can place into a higher level based on previous study or exposure. By the fifth semester of formal study, courses will often emphasize literature and culture, and will commonly be taught in the language of interest. At colleges with good programs, you would be unlikely to be disappointed with the level of instruction and challenge, and would be able to measure your progress by your level of fluency.
These sources should answer some of your other questions:
Russian, omitted above, would be another example of a commonly taught language.
very few people can become fluent in a language through classroom study. You need to live in that language for a considerable period of time to approach fluency.
Yes, Tufts, Middlebury, Dickinson, and Bryn Mawr have excellent language programs. Georgetown U. has the School of Languages and Linguistics. Other top programs include the U. Wisconsin at Madison, Beloit, some of the ivies and some of the UCs, etc., etc.
And study abroad/immersion programs, as @TomSrOfBoston points out, are essential for gaining real fluency. Obviously, for Latin and Ancient Greek, it’ll be tough to find study abroad immersion programs, ;), but there are some excellent intensive summer study programs in classical languages around (UC Berkeley has a highly regarded one, for example).
Everybody uses the term “learning language” very subjectively. Like others have pointed out, if you want full fluency, then full immersion is at some point necessary, and you likely won’t pull it off in 4 years of college without a major in it (if you have no background).
If you want to get basic reading a conversational skills down, then you can absolutely do that. I’ve taken 4 semesters of Arabic in college (so far) as a part of my degree, and have decided recently to study turkish too, as I’ve grown to really enjoy the middle east’s languages and histories.
Yes, many students start new languages in college. While as noted, it’ll take something more than on campus classes to gain real fluency, colleges often facilitate study abroad programs. This, imo, is one of those amazing college opportunities that can be hard to fit into “real life” so if this appeals to you, seize it!