Spanish & Portuguese

Spanish and Portuguese are closely related languages widely spoken throughout the Americas. Being able to communicate in both Portuguese and Spanish is key to understanding the culture and politics of Latin America. This is increasingly important because of the strengthening economic and cultural ties within the Americas - North America, Central and South America.

UNM's Department of Spanish & Portuguese plays a vital role in the flagship university of a bilingual state, in teaching the languages, cultures, and literatures of the Hispanic and Portuguese worlds. Our mission is to promote quality teaching and research that integrate the languages, literatures, linguistics and cultures of the Spanish-and Portuguese-speaking worlds. The department shares its expertise with the university community, the city of Albuquerque and the state of New Mexico, and is especially committed to revitalizing the Spanish language in New Mexico and to studying the interactions between cultures in the Southwest.

We have an internationally ranked Hispanic Linguistics program, one of the first in the nation, a Southwest Studies program which offers everything from Colonial to Chicano literature, folklore, and cultural studies, a Spanish as a Heritage Language program that has been serving bilingual students since the 1960's, a Portuguese program which began in the 1940's (one of the oldest in the U.S.) with one of the finest library collections in the country, and a literature program with strengths in medieval, renaissance, and modern Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Brazil.

Faculty and students work together in the classroom, in the community, and in study abroad to develop understanding, sensitive communication and critical thinking about our diverse and interconnected world. The Department prepares its students with the skills, knowledge, and values necessary to lead productive and fulfilling lives as citizens and life-long learners. Our students enjoy opportunities for research, field work, and travel in their quest to professionalize their Spanish and Portuguese and engage a regional and global community.

We teach three basic language programs: Spanish as a Second Language, Spanish as a Heritage Language, and Brazilian Portuguese. Our undergraduate degrees offer concentrations in Hispanic Linguistics, Hispanic Literature (Peninsular and Spanish American), Hispanic Southwest Studies, and Portuguese. As studying abroad and immersing yourself in another culture can greatly enhance a language education, we offer financial support to students who might not otherwise be able to afford such an opportunity. Remember, your financial aid travels with you in many UNM Study Abroad programs as well!

We also offer a Departmental Honors Program, which gives students a great opportunity to work closely with a faculty member on an original research project. This is great preparation for graduate school, or for motivated students who simply want to dig deep into an area of interest in their final semesters at UNM.

Learning multiple languages increases your knowledge of the world by communicating with the global community; facilitates the discovery of diverse peoples and societies, including their humor, literature, newspapers, television, web sites, and movies; improves your analytical and interpretive capabilities, essentially sharpening the skills necessary to succeed in school; gives you the advantage of developing their research projects by studying original documents in other languages; and heightens your competitive edge in the workforce as increasingly, global businesses, governments, educational institutions, and non-profits need workers with a variety of skills who can communicate in different languages and understand other cultures. 

Careers that are supported by a second major in Spanish and/or Portuguese are too numerous to mention. Some examples include Medicine and Health, Social Work, International Peace, Justice and Development, Business and the Legal System. Some of the most popular first majors that are best complemented by a second major in Spanish and/or Portuguese are Biology and Psychology leading into Pre-Med and Nursing; Sociology and Criminology, and Political Science; Pre-Law; Latin American Studies; Communication & Journalism; Education and Engineering

Spanish as a Heritage Language (SHL)

Many students in New Mexico and the U.S. as a whole grew up in Spanish-speaking households, but may or may not be able to speak or write in Spanish. SHL learners are ones who have a cultural connection to the Spanish language. The connection to the language may come through community, family, or cultural heritage. Not all SHL learners are proficient in their heritage language. It is common to find students placed in the beginning levels that understand very little, or no, spoken Spanish. However, their cultural connection serves as a motivating factor in the classroom. Likewise, it is common for students placed in the upper levels to be fully bilingual. Despite this contrast, the majority of students are somewhere in the middle; they have been exposed to Spanish while growing up and are in the process of polishing skills that they already possess. 

We design classes from the point of view that language learning must take place in a context in which the students' culture is honored and explored. We adopt a very inclusive definition in order to recognize the linguistic diversity found among our students, including serving beginning-level students. In SHL classes, students come together to learn about a language to which they have a cultural connection. Often, they are able to share experiences, cultural background, and linguistic knowledge with one another. We view the students as cultural resources who must look to their own communities for inspiration and for learning opportunities. For many students, the simple act of being in a class in which the other students share many of the same linguistic histories and cultural practices is a transformational experience. 

One of our primary goals is to help our students develop an appreciation of their heritage language. The Spanish that they bring with them is promoted as a valuable resource. The Spanish of their communities is honored as a venerable variety of the language. We go so far as to propose that the Spanish that has been preserved in New Mexico should be considered a national treasure for its uniqueness and its perseverance. 


Portuguese has over 260 million speakers, and is the fifth most spoken language in the world. It is the third most spoken language in the Western world, primarily in Brazil. It is considered a Critical Language by the U.S. Department of State.

The UNM Portuguese program emphasizes both the culture and the literature of Brazil, and includes classes on popular culture, music, cinema and theater. You may end up studying the history of soccer in Brazil, multicultural culinary influences in Brazilian food, political history, Indigenous environmental movements, or the evolution of Brazilian music. There is so much to discover about this continent-size country with increasing world prominence, and we are here to help you uncover how your interests work with studying Portuguese.

Learning Portuguese will give UNM graduates employment advantages in business, government, non-governmental agencies, and education. There are study abroad programs for intensive language learning and for one semester or year study at universities in all the major cities in Brazil, including Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, and Porto Alegre.

The Portuguese program has courses for students at UNM with diverse language backgrounds. Our advisor and our instructors will help students select the best course for their needs. Most of our students are learning Portuguese as a 3rd language, in essence putting Portuguese on top of English and another Romance language, such as Spanish or French. In any given semester 60-80% of our students are Spanish speakers, and up to 40% are native Spanish speakers. We have courses for Spanish speakers that use comparisons between the two languages and special materials. These similarities allow for faster paced study than traditional language courses. 

Undergraduate Program

Departmental Honors

UNM Catalog

Programs of Study


  • B.A. Spanish
  • B.A. Portuguese
  • Spanish
  • Portuguese

Contact Information

Undergraduate Academic Advisor(s): 
Advisor office locations vary. Please click on your advisor's name below to learn more.
Advising Email:
Department Email:
Department Location:
Ortega Hall (Bldg 79), Suite 235

Department/Program Website