Romance Languages and Literatures First Year Courses

The Department of Romance Languages and Literatures strongly encourages first-year students to continue their previous language study to the highest possible level. We also encourage students to explore the study of other Romance languages offered by the department.

The aim of this department is to provide students with a solid foundation in the languages, literatures, and cultures of the French-, Italian-, and Spanish-speaking worlds. Language courses work to improve students’ abilities in speaking, comprehending, reading, and writing in French, Italian, or Spanish, while providing an introduction to culture. Structured in levels of increasing complexity, literature courses foster the improvement of analytical and critical skills, an enhanced aesthetic appreciation of works of literary art, and a broader understanding of linguistic and cultural diversity. Many of the courses offered in the department may be taken by students who do not plan to major in French or Spanish but who would like to maintain or develop their knowledge of these languages and cultures. Given the multi-cultural nature of the United States today, familiarity with a second language and culture will enhance a student’s preparation for a career in any profession. Advanced study of Spanish or French (300 level and higher) makes the student eligible for the intimate contact with a foreign culture available through the department’s programs of study abroad. A major in French or Spanish is useful for many professions, including law, business, international trade, journalism, education, and public administration.

The department offers majors and minors in both French and Spanish, and study of Italian through the 300-level. Courses counting toward the French and Spanish majors are conducted entirely in the appropriate language.

Please note the following: (1) Students eligible to register for 122 without having had 121 must contact the instructor early to find out how they can most effectively prepare to enter this ongoing course in January. (2) Participation in the department's study abroad programs in Dijon and Madrid requires previous language study. See information at the end of the departmental description.


Placement Guidelines

Prerequisite guidelines are included in the course listings and the course descriptions posted online to assist first-year students in selecting the appropriate course at Colgate. Students who are unsure of the appropriate language course are encouraged to contact the department chair. In all matters of placement, the department makes the final determination, usually on the first day of classes, when students will be asked to fill out a language background questionnaire. The department will also have information about students’ previous language studies supplied by the Office of the Registrar. After reviewing this information, the department will either confirm placement in the course selected or determine a more appropriate placement. Again, be aware that some courses at Colgate are not offered both terms. Language courses numbered 122 usually are offered only in the spring term. Many first-year students with high school language experience are best placed at the 300-level and are encouraged to register accordingly. Please see our Placement Guideline page for detailed information.

Advanced Placement

Colgate course credit is awarded to students receiving a score of 4 or 5 on the AP French Language or AP Spanish Language and Literature exams. Students receiving a 4 on the language or literature exams will receive credit for 202 in the appropriate department. Students receiving a score of 5 on the language or literature exams will receive credit for 361 in the appropriate department. Students will then normally register for courses at the next higher level. Students receive major or minor credit for an AP score of 5. See the Advanced Placement Credit Summary or consult with the department chair. 

Students who have learned a language in a non-academic way, such as lengthy foreign residence, or who have earned college credit in a language before matriculating at Colgate, should consult the department chair for placement.


(1) Students who have completed two years of foreign language study in high school and need to meet the language requirement are automatically permitted to register for 121 if they consider their prior achievement to be poor. (2) Students who will have had a break in their language study of two years or more or who have SAT verbal scores below 450 may in some instances, with permission of the department chair, register for a course at a lower level than indicated above. 

Programs and Opportunities

Majors and minors are offered in French and Spanish. The University Catalogue has a complete description of the requirements for majors and minors, and first-year students who are interested should plan their courses accordingly. 

Foreign study programs, open to non-majors as well as majors, are conducted in France, Spain, and Italy. The program in Dijon, composed mainly of juniors, requires prerequisite work through the 400 level. The Madrid program, also composed mainly of juniors, requires work through the 300 level. The program in Venice is open to sophomores and upper-class students and requires knowledge of elementary Italian (2-3 years of high school Italian, ITAL 121-122 at Colgate, or intensive summer language study in Venice). More detailed information on these groups and on prerequisites is available from the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. Interested first-year students are also encouraged to attend the information meetings that are held during the academic year.


The FREN 121,122 sequence is a highly interactive course that introduces students to the basic skills of understanding, speaking, reading and writing in the French language. The sequence acquaints students with the rich world of Francophone culture through conversations, the discussion of short texts, the French language table and coffee hours, film, and other resources. Online tools help students understand and appreciate the nuances of French grammar, vocabulary, and expression. Language Placement Guidelines

Designed to improve students’ ability to understand, speak, read, and write French. Class time is devoted to communication activities, a study of intermediate grammar, conversational vocabulary, and Francophone culture. Language Placement Guidelines

Designed to increase the student’s ability to understand, speak, read, and write French, this course emphasizes development of reading comprehension. A review of the more difficult points of intermediate grammar is included. A major focus is the acquisition of skills necessary for the study of literature. This course includes vocabulary study, conversational practice, and short compositions based on readings. Language Placement Guidelines

Studies major works, principal authors, and literary movements of French literature in the 18th and 19th centuries. Language Placement Guidelines

Offers an overview of various bodies of literature written in French outside of France, focusing on five main geographical areas that historically constituted the French empire: the Caribbean, North Africa, West and Central Africa, Asia, and North America. Full texts as well as excerpts from a variety of genres are studied in the context of the history and geography of those regions. Through the exploration of key literary texts, particular attention is given to the effects of colonialism on language, identity, and artistic creation. Language Placement Guidelines

Faculty Profile for Professor Julien 

How do we come to be who we are? How do we tell our own stories? What can we learn from each other? What does it mean to be a human community? These are some of the questions this course invites us to consider as we discover texts written by various prominent authors from West and North Africa. The product of a complex history, this is a literature where cultures, identities, genres, and languages intersect. It gives voice to rich questions of identity and self-definition through the exploration of traditional as well as innovative forms of writing. Together, we will engage in close reading of these texts and have broader discussions on themes and concepts such as imperialism and colonialism, post-colonialism, cultural translocation, gender, race, sexuality, religion, and multilingualism. In doing so, we will encounter new ways of reflecting on questions and issues that concern us all, our self-definition, and the way we relate to others. This course is taught in English but should especially be of interest to students with some experience with the French language or in French-speaking countries. There will be the opportunity of a separate optional “Foreign Language Across the Curriculum” component. Students who successfully complete this seminar will receive credit for FREN 222 and satisfy one half of the Human Thought and Expression area of inquiry requirement. 

Hélène M. Julien is professor of French and Women’s Studies. With a specific focus on contemporary French literature and literature from North Africa and its diaspora, her research explores the ways in which personal and collective selves find their voices in relation to history, memory, gender, race, sexuality, and culture.


The ITAL 121, 122 sequence is an introduction to the Italian language that provides a foundation in both spoken and written Italian. ITAL 121 introduces students to the basic structures of the language in a highly interactive way: it emphasizes the mastery of grammatical structures and vocabulary with a strong emphasis on obtaining both communicative and cultural competency. Language Placement Guidelines

Designed to improve student’s ability to understand, speak, read, and write Italian and to expand students’ knowledge of Italian culture. It includes review of basic Italian grammar and introduction to new grammar structures, conversational practice, short compositions, cultural and literary readings, and films. Language Placement Guidelines


The SPAN 121,122 sequence invites students to an introductory-level communication with the Spanish-speaking world. In SPAN 121, students become familiar with the mechanics of the spoken and written language while sharing information about themselves and their surroundings. Exercises and projects focus on learning about people, cities and music in Latin American and Spain through basic language structures. Students are strongly encouraged to continue into SPAN 122 to complete the year-long sequence. Language Placement Guidelines

Designed to improve the student’s ability to understand, speak, read, and write Spanish. It includes a comprehensive review of grammar, regularly scheduled vocabulary study, conversational practice, short compositions, and laboratory exercises. Language Placement Guidelines

Continues to improve the student’s ability to understand, speak, read, and write Spanish and emphasizes development of reading comprehension. It includes a review of the more difficult points of intermediate grammar and focuses on the acquisition of skills necessary for the study of literature. Vocabulary study, conversational practice, and short compositions based on readings are included. Instructors will determine eligibility of students with more than 3 or 4 years of secondary school Spanish following review of language background. Language Placement Guidelines

Offers an introduction to Spanish literature from its medieval origins through the 15th century, with emphasis on the relations among literature, culture, and civilization. Works from different genres are studied, including epic poetry, Hispano-Arabic poetry, folk ballads, early theater, historical works, and short stories. Students explore issues of authorship, as well as the cultural, religious, and historical contexts that produced each work. Language Placement Guidelines

Through a survey of Latin American literature from its origins through the 20th century, this course examines the many forms of alternative reality that Latin American writers have created and explored. The course relates those realities to the cultural and sociological history of Latin America as well as to larger Western literary modes, such as the Baroque, Romanticism, and Surrealism. Language Placement Guidelines

The course explores the diversity of literary voices in Latin America, from pre-Columbian texts to the contemporary writings of Castellanos, Rulfo, and García Márquez. This survey introduces students to the most important developments in Latin American literary history as it examines questions of cultural, ethnic, gender, and class identities. Language Placement Guidelines

Structured as an intensive composition class. Emphasis is placed on mastering the fine points of Spanish grammar in order to improve writing skills. In addition to regular class meetings, students are required to attend a series of cultural events, which may include film, theater, etc. Language Placement Guidelines