A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

What is it like to Study Linguistics at Leiden University?

Are you trying to figure out which study is for you? Or maybe you are thinking of taking some linguistics courses during your study. Maybe you even want to do your master’s in Linguistics! Or perhaps you’re just very curious about the discipline in general. If you identify with any of the previous questions, then this article is just for you!

abstract faces with gears in head

Introductory Courses

Linguistics is the scientific study of language and its structure. As a linguistics student, you will study grammar, syntax (the arrangement of words and phrases into a grammatical sentence), and phonetics (the study of speech sounds). Here are a few of the basic courses that you will take in your first year:

  • Phonology: The study of the knowledge and representations of sound structure of language. You will learn about phonemes, features, syllables, stress, and tone.
  • Syntax: Syntax is the study of the structure of sentences. You will learn  about the diagnostic tests used to define word classes and grammatical categories. You will also learn how sentences are structured using diagnostic tests and Syntax trees.
  • Sociolinguistics: This course explores how speech and language affects societies and communities. You will learn how factors like ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender can influence speech. Further, you will also learn about the quantitative and qualitative research methods that go into the study of sociolinguistics. (This was my favorite course!)
  • Languages of the World: In this course, you will delve into the diversity of languages and learn about the different types that exist in the world. You will learn how languages are classified based on their genealogical/typological features. You will learn about interesting features and structures that certain languages can have! This course focuses mostly on non-Western languages.


The field is very broad and there are many different specializations. Leiden University offers: Comparative Indo-European Linguistics, Language and Cognition, Descriptive Linguistics. You can learn more about each specialization here.

My Journey With Linguistics at Leiden University

My journey with linguistics has not been a smooth and linear path. I have had many struggles and I have definitely thought about quitting the program several times. However, the storm eventually passed and now I genuinely enjoy what I study!

I went into Linguistics without a clear understanding of what the bachelor’s degree entailed. I thought Linguistics was a more general study of languages. Specifically, I thought it would be a more history-oriented study of languages. However, this wasn’t the case. The study is quite scientific compared to other humanities studies and I wasn’t prepared in the beginning.

In the beginning of my first year, I struggled a lot with my classes. This was because I had never studied anything like Linguistics before. It was more technical and a lot more work than I had anticipated. Additionally, I was also struggling with adjusting to a new country, new friends, and with learning how to adult on my own. It also didn’t help that I was going through some mental health issues to top it all off.

And then I failed many of my exams. This was a very painful time for me because I had never failed like this before in academics. It made me question my own intelligence and it really kicked my self-esteem in the butt. Consequently, it was a very real possibility that I would not receive my propedeuse (first-year diploma) and that I would not be able to continue with Linguistics next year. The only way I could make it is if I pass all of my resit exams. So I spent many hours cramming at the UB library, bombarding my classmates with a million questions, and stress-eating lots of Snickers bars. Miraculously, I managed to pass all of my resit exams, except for one. But this meant that I would be able to continue to the second year! And I finally received my propedeuse.

In the second year, I picked the Comparative Indo-European track of the program. I stayed in the program for one semester before dropping out of the track. It was not a good fit for me personally. The track is very heavy on memorization of declensions and vocabulary and analyzing ancient grammatical structures. I simply wasn’t able to be interested nor keep up with the courses. Further, I just wasn’t fascinated by Ancient Greek, Vedic Sanskrit, or Hittite.


Eventually, I ended up in the right track for me which is Descriptive Linguistics. This track focuses on documenting non-western languages, and has an emphasis on endangered and indigenous languages. In this track, I was able to study some very interesting topics such as Sign Language and Gesture Studies, Anthropological Linguistics, Berber and more! I got to learn about the variety of languages that exist in the world, and what makes them distinct from other languages.

Nicole Ogden (me) reading

Final Tips for Choosing a Study

  • Do tons of research on the study beforehand
  • Watch Youtube videos of students who study the subject
  • Ask current students about their experiences (don’t be shy about this, many people are very helpful!) University websites and brochures can only be so informative. Current students will be more honest about their experience with the program. They can tell you what to really expect and give you more details about the workload, the professors, and the classes.
  • Watch Crash Course videos (they have Crash Course Linguistics Videos now!)
  • Enroll in two bachelor’s programs simultaneously. If you are unsure about what to study, you can enroll in two bachelor’s programs (of the same Dutch university) simultaneously while only paying for one. Then, when you learn more about what you like, drop out of the one you don’t! (I didn’t know this was possible and I would have done this if I knew earlier!) You don’t have to stick with one of the programs for too long if you are unsure. Normally, you would know if you like something after just a few classes of it.

Best of luck on your study journey! I hope that this article was informative and helpful for some people who are interested in studying Linguistics.

Leave a Reply


This entry was posted on November 26, 2020 by in How to choose your study, Nicole, Study and tagged , , , , , , , .

Hit Counter

  • 883,859 total visits!
%d bloggers like this: