Middle Eastern Language Study

CMES houses and/or supports comprehensive modern Middle Eastern language programs in Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Persian, and Turkish. Offered through the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC), these rigorous programs provide CMES students and other undergraduate and graduate students across Harvard with advanced language proficiency to support their research and fieldwork.

The NELC course list, including language courses, is available on the FAS Registrar's website.


The Arabic language program is comprised of two main tracks, modern and classical, each consisting of five years of formal, intensive language instruction.

  • The classical track deals with Arabic texts of the pre-modern period and covers a wide range of primary sources that draw on the vast literature of the medieval Arabo-Islamic literary heritage. These texts span religious (Quran, hadith), legal, historical, literary, and philological topics and disciplines. Emphasis is placed on reading, translation, and grammar analysis.
  • The modern track aims at developing global proficiency in modern standard Arabic as it is currently used throughout the Arab world. Emphasis is equally placed on all four of the basic language skills: reading, listening comprehension, speaking, and writing. Courses draw on a broad cultural context that allows students to acquire basic knowledge of social, cultural, and academic institutions that complements and reinforces the language learning process. A two-track third year offers both “academic” and “professional” Arabic, the latter especially designed for students wishing to explore non-academic career options. The professional track offers advanced spoken modern standard Arabic (pan-Arabic of the media), as well as classes in Levantine and Egyptian Arabic.


Modern Western Armenian—a variety of the pluricentric Indo-European language of Armenian—is offered at two levels, elementary and intermediate. Taught using communicative methods and project-based learning, the courses provide students with training to converse and create in the language while interacting with local Armenian speakers in neighboring Watertown. Prior classes have produced Armenian-language materials in the form of infomercials, zines, dance routines, and songs. For students interested in Armenian culture, courses conducted in English are offered on contemporary literature and film from Armenia and the Armenian diaspora.


Modern Hebrew is offered at four levels. The first year of basic skills is followed by a second year concentrating on modern prose, poetry, and drama. The second year class is conducted entirely in Hebrew and students work in small conversation groups. Advanced courses in the third and fourth year focus on great works in Israeli literature, theater, cinema, and visual arts. The modern Hebrew program incorporates cutting-edge technological tools and resources including Israeli “books on tape” that include audio and pop-up vocabulary translation for the beginner and intermediate student and an online version of the intermediate course accessible via the iTunes U platform for iPad.


Persian language is taught at three levels; at the end of the second year, students can read all but most technical prose and can converse idiomatically on a wide range of topics. Advanced students read classical literature from eleventh century to present, and most can do serious scholarly research by the end of the third year.


Turkish and Ottoman language courses are offered at three levels, and complimented by additional course offerings on Turkish culture and literature.