Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales

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The Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) (National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations) is located in Paris, France. It was founded in 1795 after the French Revolution and is now one of the country's Grands établissements with a specialization in African, Asian, East European, Oceanian, and native American languages and civilisations. It is often colloquially called Langues O (pronounced "lang-zo"), an abbreviation for "Langues Orientales".

Ninety-three languages are taught at the INALCO, covering Asian, African, eastern European, South Pacific, Finno-Ugric and native American languages. INALCO offers beginner classes as well as Master and PhD courses. The INALCO is the French partner of the British SOAS which now teaches mainly Asian and African languages. INALCO is currently presided by Manuelle Franck, specialist in Southeast Asian Geography.


The institute was established on March 30, 1795, by decree of the Convention nationale as the École spéciale des Langues orientales, for Oriental studies, with a mission to teach living Oriental languages "of recognized utility for politics and commerce". It first opened its doors within the Bibliothèque nationale, and grew steadily throughout the 19th century, adding new languages and incorporating the École des Jeunes de Langues founded by Jean-Baptiste Colbert in 1669.

In 1914 the school was renamed the École nationale des langues orientales vivantes, then in 1968 the Centre universitaire des langues orientales vivantes, and finally in 1971 achieved its present name. From 1971 to 1984 it was associated with the Université de la Sorbonne nouvelle (Paris III).


  • African Studies
  • Native American Languages and Cultures Studies
  • Arabic Studies
  • South Asian Studies
  • South-East Asian Studies
  • Central and Oriental European Studies
  • Chinese Studies
  • Eurasian Studies
  • Japanese Language and Civilization Studies
  • Jewish Language and Civilization Studies
  • Russian Studies

Oriental Languages preparing to international careers

At INALCO, two main professional departments provide studies that leverage the languages skills taught at the institute:

1/ The International Trade Department - Filière commerce international
This department offers the Master’s Degree in International Trade which provides a general academic background in business (international marketing, business law, logistics, corporate finance) with an emphasis on far-eastern markets, economies and inter-cultural management. This diploma typically prepares students for careers abroad in French companies’ affiliates or in France promoting exports to emerging markets.

2/ The International Relations Department - Filière relations internationales
The Master’s Degree in International Relations offered by this department is focused on policy making. Studied areas include international security issues, international finance, international public law and extensive cultural area seminars. This other post-graduate diploma prepares students for careers in NGOs, international organizations, embassies’ services, communication agencies and human resources.

Difficulty of programmes

INALCO is considered as being the most difficult place where to learn oriental languages in France. Although the Institute does not make any selection by exam, endemic failure rates every year show the difficulty of most programmes. Failure rates are particularly significant among students studying Japanese, Chinese, Russian and Arabic, historically the largest departments.

Below is a table with approximate students numbers, successful students numbers and failure rates in the first, second and third year of the Department of Japanese Studies.

Level Total number Successful students Failure rates
First year 650 250 66.66%
Second year 300 120 60%
Third Year 150 110 26.66%

International partnership

Given its academic fields of study, INALCO has a large number of partnerships with different higher education institutions around the world. Every year, after going through a harsh competition, a small number of students belonging to roughly all departments has the opportunity to go study for a year in the country of their target language. Most of them receive a scholarship from French or foreign governments whereas a small minority goes abroad at their own expense.

Famous staff and alumni


  • Maurice Leenhardt, lecturer in New-Caledonian
  • Jacques Legrand, professor of Mongolian
  • Jean Bonet, professor of Vietnamese from 1888 to 1907.
  • Ioannis Psycharis, professor of Greek from 1903 to 1928.
  • Iaroslav Lebedynsky, lecturer in Ukrainian


  • Marianne Bastid-Bruguière (alumni)
  • Léon Gontran Damas
  • Edgar Faure
  • Olivier Roy, Master's in Persian language
  • Pierre Messmer
  • Patrick Poivre d'Arvor
  • Henri de Laborde de Monpezat (Prince Henrik of Denmark)
  • Étienne Decaux
  • Heinrich Leberecht Fleischer
  • Henri Grappin
  • Alain Guillermou
  • Justus Ohlshausen
  • Jean-Jacques Origas
  • Aurélien Sauvageot
  • Johann Gustav Stickel
  • Yitskhok Niborski
  • Dagpo Rinpoche
  • Princess Maria Laura of Belgium

External links


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