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Indigenous Language Programs

The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies is committed to the instruction and preservation of indigenous languages of the region. LACS offers intensive language instruction of Quechua and Nahuatl during the academic year and summer. Both Quechua and Nahuatl are approved Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS)-eligible languages for undergraduate and graduate students.

Why learn an indigenous language?

Indigenous languages are keys to the histories, traditions, and worldviews of the peoples of Latin America. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese to the Americas, thousands of languages were spoken on the continent. Today, many of these languages have gone extinct, and with them, precious pieces of the region’s cultural heritage. Students and researches studying pre-Columbian civilizations will find great value in the study of the languages and/or writing systems of these groups.

A few hundred indigenous languages are still spoken throughout Latin America, and many migrant communities in the United States speak them as well. While many of these migrants come to the US also speaking Spanish or Portuguese, some only speak an indigenous language, creating a need for trained interpreters to assist migrants with medical, legal, and other administrative matters. 


The Quechua linguistic family has around 10 million speakers, concentrated in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina, both in the rural highlands and urban areas, and by migrants from these regions in the United States and Europe. It was the language of the Inca Empire that ruled the region until the Spanish invasion. It continues to be spoken by their descendants and is the most widely spoken of all American Indian languages.

About the Quechua language program »


Nahuatl is part of the Uto-Aztecan language family and variants of Nahuatl are spoken by around two million speakers, primarily throughout Central Mexico. Nahuatl was the official language of the Aztec Empire, an alliance of city-states that ruled the Valley of Mexico in the 15th and 16th centuries. During the Spanish Conquest, Nahuatl became a literary language used in chronicles, codices, and administrative documents.

About the Nahuatl language program »