Learning a Language at Harvard!

Category Student Voices


Ricky, HFAI Coordinator
Ricky Class of '27
Authored on April 06, 2024


Xin chào! That means “hello” in Vietnamese, and it was one of the first words I learned while studying a language here at Harvard! 

Due to Harvard’s Language Requirement, many students take one year of a language course—though some go on for longer while others learn multiple languages simultaneously! There are some exceptions to this requirement, such as the option to use a relevant AP credit. But even if you test out, you should still consider learning a language at Harvard. Hopefully, my experience can illustrate some reasons why! 

Something Different 

My current schedule is packed with 3 STEM-heavy courses, so it is refreshing to think about something different for a change. In fact, I often “procrastinate” on my coding homework to instead review flashcards on Quizlet! 

Connecting with Culture 

Language courses are more than just vocabulary and grammar; they are vessels into entirely new worlds. I am personally Vietnamese-American, so it has been incredibly rewarding to learn more about my heritage. But even if you do not identify as Vietnamese (many in the class don’t), learning about a new culture can be just as rewarding. 

Fun Events 

Related to the previous point, many language programs hold events to celebrate their respective cultures. The Vietnamese Language Program, for example, held cultural celebrations during Tết Trung Thu (Mid-Autumn Festival) and Tết Nguyên Đán (Lunar New Year)—with free Vietnamese food provided at both! 

The Vietnamese Language Program also hosted just-for-fun events, such as a “language table,” where we practiced Vietnamese through Scattergories. The entire semester culminated in a class outing to a local Vietnamese restaurant in Boston! 


A picture of a brown table with food, including egg rolls and tea.


Friends Outside of the Bubble 

Language courses can be incredibly diverse. In my Vietnamese class, for example, there are people from every grade, including students cross-registering from MIT and the nearby graduate schools. Most of my courses have consisted of other first-years, so it has been nice to meet people outside the “bubble.” Additionally, the small and intimate environment of the course fosters close connections with classmates, many of whom I am lucky to call my friends! 

The Joy of Knowing Another Language 

I saved the best (and cheesiest) for last! Yes, arguably, the best part of taking a language course is simply the joy of knowing another language. Something as simple as listening to a song in Vietnamese now feels more rewarding. Learning a language improved my understanding of the world—it can for you, too! 

I hope my story gave you some insight on what it is like to take a language course at Harvard!


A selfie with a group of people inside the Harvard Art Museums.


  • Academics
  • First-Year

Ricky Class of '27

Hello! My name is Ricky and I’m a first-year student thinking of studying statistics on a data science track.

Ricky, HFAI Coordinator