Urban’s World Language Department teachers seek to inspire and motivate students to become proficient in Mandarin Chinese, French or Spanish by their senior year and to continue their language learning beyond Urban in order to participate more efficaciously in a world made irrevocably smaller by technological innovation, globalization and immigration.
The tools of proficiency encompass both form (grammatical precision, extensive and expressive vocabulary, near-native accent and intonation) and message (authentic and spontaneous communication exchanges). We train our students to access and balance these two domains of language production from their first year onward by immersion in the target language, avoidance of English, and both instruction and assessment practices that require daily and active participation. Digital technology plays a pivotal role in the language classroom, in particular because of its unique and intrinsic capacity to shape, facilitate and improve communication, the central goal of the program.
Urban's World Language program offers students the opportunity to achieve advanced level proficiency in French, Spanish or Chinese. Three years of study are required but most students continue for a fourth or fifth year. Classes are conducted in the target language and students are expected to avoid the use of English with the instructor and each other at all times. A written and oral exam is offered for incoming students who wish to enroll in Level 2 or 3. If students choose not to take the exam, they are automatically placed in Level 1. Urban’s language teachers are committed to producing students who are not only proficient in a second language, but who also value and avail themselves of the cross-cultural knowledge linguistic proficiency unlocks and fosters.
For further information about how Urban teaches language, please see our World Language Portfolio.
Urban Advanced Studies (UAS) language courses give students the opportunity to pursue advanced (UAS Level 4) or superior (UAS Level 5) proficiency in Chinese, French or Spanish. In these courses, students must be able to process (listening and reading) and produce (speaking and writing) both forms and messages characterized by their length, depth and detail; advanced and superior grammatical structures; precise and expressive vocabulary and idioms; and communicative authenticity. These levels of proficiency require absolute and attentive inquiry and engagement in class and rigorous, independent practice outside of class. Students finish the UAS program with a solid foundation for pursuing language majors or minors in college.
Chinese 1 (novice level proficiency) is an intensive introduction to spoken and written Chinese language through contextual, real-life communicative activities. The focus is on pronunciation, vocabulary development and sentence formation, with students achieving the ability to speak and write a minimum of 300 words in simplified Chinese characters, and to read and listen effectively to a variety of elementary phrases and short passages. An important goal includes achieving intelligible pronunciation and intonation patterns. (1 credit)
Chinese 2 (novice to beginning intermediate level proficiency) reviews the basics covered in Chinese 1 and deepens students' understanding of the material. In addition, students acquire and use an additional 300 characters. Short readings of authentic materials supplement the basic textbook and are discussed in Chinese. Students improve their writing skills and work on oral skills through presentations, communicative activities, games, cultural activities and reading-centered discussions. (1 credit)
Chinese 3 (intermediate level proficiency) gives students the opportunity to go further in-depth into Chinese grammatical structures and their use in everyday situations. By this time, students will be able to hold longer and more satisfying conversations, present more sophisticated oral presentations, and write more detailed essays. More discussions on Chinese culture, society, history and poetry will be done at this level as well. Students will continue to develop their literacy skills by acquiring less frequently used Chinese characters. (1 credit)
UAS Chinese 4A: Language and Culture Immersion in Chinese
This is the first course of the UAS Chinese series, a continuation of intermediate Chinese. Students continue learning vocabulary and sentence structures used in everyday situations through various forms of practice. It is a comprehensive course at the advanced level that intends to further develop students’ aptitudes in the four key language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) of Mandarin Chinese. Students learn vocabulary and grammar via exploring Chinese pop culture and contemporary China through authentic material, i.e. pop songs, vlogs, films. In addition, students celebrate and understand the importance of traditional holidays through hands-on cultural activities. (1/2 credit)
UAS Chinese 4B: Idiom Phrases (chengyu) This is the second course of the UAS Chinese series, a continuation of intermediate Chinese. This course focuses on intensive practice of spoken and written Mandarin with an emphasis on proper use of chengyu (idiom phrases), and building of vocabulary based on topics of interest and relevance. Students will enhance formal essay writing and conversation skills through learning chengyu. Students also learn traditional Chinese culture and examine the issues among contemporary Chinese societies. This class prepares students for a higher level of Chinese language learning. (1/2 credit)
UAS Chinese 5/6A: Chinese through Films This is the third course of the UAS Chinese series. This course concentrates on expanding skills in understanding and using Mandarin through films from Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, with attention to the historical, linguistic, regional and cultural differences. Students examine contemporary Chinese films through multiple mediums of understanding (watching, script-reading, writing exercises) to better understand the culture, language and historical components of the Greater China Region. (1/2 credit)
UAS Chinese 5/6B: A Closer Look at the Greater China Region This is the final course of the UAS Chinese series. The class aims to develop student aptitude in the four key language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) through examining technology/scientific development, social/environmental challenges, and regional/international political issues in today's Greater China Region. Students also explore aspects of Chinese language in traditional Chinese linguistics, historical linguistics, sociolinguistics and Chinese dialectology. Topics include historical sources, social variations and geographical distributions. This class prepares students for advanced studies in Chinese in college. (1/2 credit)
French 1 (novice level proficiency) is an intensive introduction to spoken and written French and francophone culture through contextual, real-life communicative activities. The focus is on sentence formation and vocabulary development with students achieving the ability to speak and write effectively using the present and past tenses. An important goal is for students to begin thinking in French rather than translating from English. (1 credit)
French 2 (beginning intermediate level proficiency) reviews the basics covered in French 1 and deepens students’ understanding of the material. In addition, students acquire and use the simple and compound past tenses and are introduced to the subjunctive mood and to the conditional and future tenses. Short readings supplement the basic textbook and are discussed in French. Students improve their creative writing skills and work on oral skills through presentations, communicative activities, games, cultural activities and reading-centered discussions. (1 credit)
French 3 (high intermediate level proficiency) gives students the opportunity to review past and present tenses and to complete their acquisition of all simple and compound tenses. By this time, they find conversation and writing in French easier and more satisfying and can express themselves in all tenses. Discussions of current events and of short stories, debates and oral presentations are typical conversation activities. (1 credit)
UAS French 4A: Literature “Fantastique”- Creative Writing This course is an introduction to fantasy French literature. The stories, Oriental Tales, written by Marguerite Yourcenar, comprise folktales, fantasies and allegories, in which themes are as varied as the countries represented. From China to Japan, to the Balkans and India, the tales address questions about human nature and how one comprehends our world through various themes such as love, conquest, betrayal, religion, gender perception and passion. The stories share a mythological form based on pre-existing myths and legends. The aim of the course is to help students become more confident creative writers, to fully engage with the reading process, including ways to critically analyze texts. Students will converse and write on a variety of topics. Writing includes essays, personal reflections and literary analysis. Advanced grammar is reviewed and integrated into all skill areas. (1/2 credit)
UAS French 4B: Post-Colonial Africa / Indochina and Neocolonialism This course examines political, socioeconomic and cultural challenges in a post colonial and globalized world. The class exposes students to the relationship between France and its former colonies from the first encounters to the current discourses about the “France Afrique,” as well as to post-colonial theory and immigration literature. Students will be introduced to the diversity of Francophone Cultures through the diverse media, including documentaries, films and texts. We explore the Poets of the Negritude literary movement with essays and texts by Léopold Sédar Senghor and Aimé Césaire. Students review advanced grammar, write analytical essays, and work on multiple research projects. (1/2 credit)
UAS French 5/6A: Theater of Ideas This course questions and examines the themes of freedom, tolerance and justice through the study of the philosophical period of enlightenment, the existentialist movement and its philosophers, the Absurd, the New Wave and the impact of feminism. Students reflect on the contributions that the writers have made to our contemporary understanding of society and human existence. Texts include stories, plays and essays by Molière, Voltaire, J.J Rousseau, J.P Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir and Ionesco. Students are expected to read carefully and engage deeply with the assigned texts, analyzing them critically for themes, form and content. They will demonstrate original ideas in essays, journals and short reaction pieces. In connection with their literary pursuits, students will be exposed to audio and video clips that offer them practice with daily communicative functions. (1/2 credit)
UAS French 5/6B: The Heroine in Literature and Films This course examines the problematic themes of identity, gender roles, equality, societal norms and social constructionism from the mid 20th century to today in literature and movies through the lens of female protagonists. We engage with novels by Marguerite Duras, Dai Sijie and Shan Sa, and films by Yamina Benguigui and Agnès Jaoui. Students explore how gender and ideas of masculinity and femininity structure space and shape mobility. We also discuss the changing social and historical contexts in which these heroines evolve. Both in terms of form and content, we investigate the following two genres: autofiction and autobiography, striving to understand how the narrative forms blur the line between memoir, autobiography and fiction. (1/2 credit)
Spanish 1 (novice level proficiency) is an intensive introduction to spoken and written Spanish and Hispanic culture through contextual, real-life communicative activities. The focus is on sentence formation and vocabulary development, with students achieving the ability to speak, write, read and listen effectively using present and past tenses. An important goal is for students to begin thinking in Spanish rather than translating from English. (1 credit)
Spanish 2 (beginning intermediate level proficiency) reviews the basics covered in Spanish 1 and deepens students’ understanding of the material. In addition, students acquire and use additional past tenses, conditional and future tenses, and are introduced to the subjunctive mood. Short readings supplement the basic textbook and are discussed in Spanish. Students improve their creative writing skills and work on oral skills through presentations, communicative activities, games, cultural activities and reading-centered discussions. (1 credit)
Spanish 3 (high intermediate level proficiency) gives students the opportunity to review different verb tenses and complete their study of the subjunctive mood. They will be able to hold longer conversations and debates, produce more sophisticated and detailed oral presentations about Hispanic culture and politics, and write essays, short stories and opinion pieces. The use of all the indicative and basic subjunctive tenses becomes more spontaneous and natural. (1 credit)
UAS Spanish 4A: Crossing the Line: New Subjectivities in a Globalized Hispanic World The focus of this course is to examine the complex and sometimes contradictory experiences of new identities, whose thought and literature are not bound by national, racial or linguistic borders, but instead transit through them. We’ll investigate how these new subjectivities exemplify the positive and negative effects of living in a globalized world. We’ll explore fiction by Yuri Herrera, Sandra Cisneros, Julia Álvarez, essays by Gloria Anzaldúa, poems by Reinaldo Arenas, films such as La Ciudad or ¿Cuál es el camino a mi casa, works that explore the border-defying experiences of immigrant, refugee and exiled subjects, as well as those of travelers, explorers, colonizers. Students will discuss texts, review advanced grammar, write analytical essays, and conduct a final project. (1/2 credit)
UAS Spanish 4B: Memory, History and the Future in 20th Century Latin America This course begins by asking the question: is the past past, and can an entire continent recreate itself? We will investigate the power and sway of historical reputation on the individual, the national, and even the continental scale. We will study the genealogy of the dichotomy “Civilization and Barbarism” as it pertains to Latin America, and interrogate its subsequent reappearances and reinscriptions. We’ll see the extent to which it appears in art, fiction and film as a kind of haunting or phantasmagoric subtext, even as Latin American countries hurl themselves in the throes of progress, development and visions of the future. We’ll look at Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Fernando Botero, read short stories by Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar, Juan Rulfo, Isabel Allende, and watch the film También la lluvia. (1/2 credit)
UAS Spanish 5A/6A: Spanish Avant-Garde: Film, Literature and Art This course will provide an examination of literary and artistic movements in Spain in the 20th century, beginning with the country’s critical response to the loss of its world empire in 1898, the burgeoning of modernism and the avant-garde in the 20s and 30s, the total reversal of these movements in the aftermath of the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship through 1975, and their dynamic regeneration and reinterpretation in the 1980s and 90s up to the present day. We’ll engage with films by Pedro Almodóvar, fiction by Ana María Matute, art by Picasso and Miró, architecture by Gaudí and Calatrava, journalism and essays as we experience the dynamic shifts of a society grappling with its history and future direction. (1/2 credit)
UAS Spanish 5B/6B: Contemporary Literature and Creative Writing in Spanish In this course students will study modern and contemporary literature in Spanish, organized around the four main genres of literature: narrative, poetry, essay, and drama. In addition, they will try their hand at being Spanish language fiction writers themselves. Throughout the term, after studying the components of what make up each genre and analyzing the particular styles and methods of different authors, they will write their own original piece in that genre. The aim is twofold: to help students become more confident Spanish fiction writers, and to foster reflection and engagement with the writing process. The course will be carried out as a seminar and a workshop. They will read each other’s work, critique it, and help each other become better writers. As a final project, they will write, produce and act out a short play before their classmates. Texts to be read will include stories by Roberto Bolaño, César Aira, Marco Denevi; poetry by Pablo Neruda, Alfonsina Storni, César Vallejo; essays by Rosario Ferré, Octavio Paz; plays by Sergio Vodanovic, Sabina Berman. (1/2 credit)