Foreign Languages

HSS currently offers foreign language classes in Chinese, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish. The two-, three-, or four-year language sequences emphasize the acquisition of oral, aural, writing, and reading skills. Beginning classes are designed for students without previous knowledge. Students can then progress to intermediate and advanced classes, which are also available by permission of the instructor to students who enter Caltech knowing a foreign language.

In addition to standard language-acquisition classes, HSS offers courses that explore the literary masterworks of various linguistic regions, taught in the language of origin. Themes and readings vary from quarter to quarter in accordance with the background specialty of the instructors and interests of the students.

Latin language and literature courses, as well as advanced conversational or reading work in all other offered languages, may be available if a sufficient number of students voice interest.

HSS offers a four-year course sequence, from introductory classes (about 800 compounds and 700 characters) to elementary through intermediate levels. Students' linguistic proficiency and cultural literacy are enhanced by the study of a wide variety of materials of different styles and genres, from newspapers and magazines to selections from the works of major writers from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

French instruction in HSS includes a two-year multimedia course sequence, from beginning to advanced levels. At the advanced level, special courses in French cinema and French literature are offered with instruction in French. In addition, several French literature courses conducted in English are offered regularly.

HSS offers a series of courses at elementary, intermediate, and advanced levels. At the intermediate level, fundamental grammar and several hundred kanji characters are mastered, enabling students to read a variety of native materials. The advanced program emphasizes vocabulary building and exposure to a wide range of materials. Each spring term, invited visitors from Japan introduce students to specific topics in culture, science, business, and other areas.

A three-year program of sequential classes takes students from an elementary level to advanced study of the Spanish language. In addition, students are introduced to the wide variety of Hispanic literature and cultures. The program emphasizes autonomous learning in a proficiency-oriented setting and relies heavily on audio-visual material delivered through the Internet.

Music Studies

A recent survey of the Caltech student body revealed that nearly 25 percent of undergrads and graduate students are involved, in some way, in the study or performance of music. Clearly, music plays a significant role in the lives of a large number of students, and the faculty and staff who teach and coach music on campus are proud of the diverse and active programs that Caltech offers.

HSS courses in music include a three-term music-history sequence, offered annually, that gives students the opportunity to study the major periods in music history in considerable depth. In addition, a three-term music-theory sequence is offered in alternate years. Beginning with music fundamentals, students progress to analysis of musical form and chromatic harmony. The third term gives students the opportunity to compose in a variety of styles, from classical to pop.

Other courses have included Listening to Music (a survey of the history of music in a single term, with emphasis on the art of listening and discerning musical style) and more specialized courses such as History of Opera, Jazz History, and History of Chamber Music.


Most courses in the humanities at Caltech seek to improve students' analytic writing skills, but courses in the writing of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction enable students to develop their talents as writers in these other forms. HSS's instructors are well-respected and award-winning writers. In these courses, students read and analyze important literary texts in the relevant genre and produce their own creative work. Much time is devoted to in-class workshops of student writing, which not only provide students with valuable feedback from their peers and the instructor but also teach them to become insightful critics of others' work.

Students in the poetry course write in a variety of forms, including the sonnet and blank verse, while students of nonfiction experiment with satire, memoir, etc. The fiction courses cover either realism, which encourages students to make art out of what they know, or imaginary writing (in the tradition of Poe, Borges, and others), which is designed to give students more creative freedom. Caltech's long-running publication for creative writing and art, Totem, is run by students, and it is a venue for publication of creative works produced both inside and outside of these courses.