Language Programs

Southeast Asian Language Instruction

The instruction in Southeast Asian languages at the University of Michigan focuses on four major languages that are taught each term in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. Non-heritage and heritage students, graduate and undergraduate students are all welcome to enroll in these Southeast Asian languages.

FilipinoWhy Study Filipino?

Filipino, or Tagalog, is an Austronesian language originally spoken in the vicinity of the capital of the Philippines, Manila, but among the approximately one hundred languages of the country it has the oldest and most extensive literature, dating from the sixteenth century. 

It became the national language of the Philippines in 1937. In the 1990 census, Tagalog was listed as their first language by about a quarter of the population of the Philippines. If one includes second language speakers and speakers outside the Philippines (including substantial populations in the US), the total comes to almost sixty million. In terms of grammar, Tagalog and Filipino are very similar, but the Filipino alphabet has twenty-eight letters compared to Tagalog’s twenty and is better able to integrate loanwords. 

The University of Michigan switched from teaching Tagalog to Filipino in 1998. Tagalog had its own script before the Spanish conquest, but it and Filipino have long been written with the Roman alphabet. Because of their colonial presences, the Spanish and English languages have had a pervasive influence on Tagalog and Filipino, which contain many loanwords from these two languages.

IndonesianWhy Study Indonesian?

Indonesian, or “Bahasa Indonesia” is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world. The national language of Indonesia, where it is spoken by over 238 million inhabitants, it is over 80% cognate with Malay, spoken by 22 million Malaysians and southern Thais. 

The Malay language has formed the lingua franca of island and coastal Southeast Asia for over a thousand years. It has incorporated many words from other languages, including Sanskrit, Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, and English, and it is spoken by substantial populations in Netherlands, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and the U.S.  

Bahasa Indonesia uses the Roman alphabet (except for some religious texts, which are written in an Arabic script). Indonesia is home both to largest Muslim population in the world and to a vast array of vibrant literary, artistic, and cultural traditions.

ThaiWhy Study Thai?

Thai is spoken by approximately 63 million people in Thailand and another 20 million in the countries neighboring Thailand, where Thai functions as a lingua franca. There are also about 1.2 million expatriate Thais. Thai is both the official and standard language for Thailand. 

Historically, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country to escape Western colonization. At present, Thailand has the largest economy in continental Southeast Asia. There is a long history of trade as well as military and cultural contacts with the U.S., and a tourist industry that brings hundreds of thousands of Americans to Thailand each year. 

The University of Michigan was the first American university to offer regular instruction in Thai, and groundbreaking linguistic research on Thai was done at the University. The University of Michigan library collections of Thai materials are extensive.

VietnameseWhy Study Vietnamese?

Vietnamese has been strongly influenced by its neighbor, China. A local form of Literary Chinese was the language of learning in Vietnam for a long time, while the general form of Chinese characters was adapted to transcribe native Vietnamese words. 

Vietnamese later abandoned both and adopted a Romanized system originally developed by the French. This makes Vietnamese one of the few Asian languages whose present orthography is based on the Latin alphabet. Even though Chinese characters are no longer central to the language, Chinese words still make up as much as 60% of Vietnamese vocabulary, many of them having entered the language very early. 

Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam, where most of the almost 70 million speakers of the language live. There are substantial Vietnamese speaking populations in the neighboring countries of Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos. Because of the Vietnam War, many Vietnamese now live in the U.S.

Summer Language Programs

The Southeast Asian Summer Studies Institute, a consortium based at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, offers instructions in all levels and most Southeast Asian Languages. 

Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI)

In addition, the University of Michigan's Summer Language Institute offers summer instruction on the Ann Arbor campus in languages useful to studying Southeast Asia, including Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, French, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Below are programs for individual languages.  

Filipino Abroadfor advanced learners

Organized by the University of Hawaii, the Advanced Filipino Abroad (AFA) program is an intensive eight-week advanced Filipino language-training program held in De La Salle University, Dasmarinas.

Advanced Filipino Abroad

Advanced Study of KhmerIntensive 8-week program

Advanced Study of Khmer is administered by the University of Hawaii, Manoa, and is based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Advanced Study of ThaiIntensive 8-week program

The Advanced Study of Thai is administered by the Jackson School of International studies at the University of Washington.

Vietnamese Advanced Summer InstituteIntensive 8-week course

The Vietnamese Advanced Summer Institute is conducted in Vietnam with instruction provided by the Hanoi Vietnamese Language center, and is administered by the UCLA International Institute.

Summer Study Abroad in LaosOne-month intensive language program

Study Lao in Laos. Summer Study Abroad in Laos is a language and cultural immersion program providing undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to learn about Laos. See their website for more information.  

Language Resources

Language Resource Center

Indonesia Inquiry: A Resource Portal on Indonesia