Foreign Language Proficiency Requirement
All students are required to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language at a level that is equivalent to two years of college-level language instruction.
What is proficiency?
Consistent with widely-accepted current approaches to foreign language learning, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences views foreign language proficiency as consisting of a broad set of abilities, including:
- the ability to read and write a foreign language;
- the ability to speak and understand a foreign language;
- knowledge and understanding of the history and culture of the community or communities in which the foreign language is spoken;
- the ability to function in culturally-appropriate ways within a community or communities in which the foreign language is spoken.
In fulfilling the foreign language requirement, all students are required to achieve some measure of ability in each of these areas.
Ways to demonstrate proficiency
The level of proficiency required to fulfill the foreign language requirement is equivalent to two years of college-level language instruction, demonstrated in one of the following ways.
Through AP scores or department testing
Some students are able to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language before they begin classes at Northwestern. You can do this by earning a high enough score on an AP exam or a Northwestern placement exam. Many placement exams are available online. Information on placement examinations is sent to incoming freshmen during the summer. View a table showing ways to fulfill the foreign language requirement through AP or Northwestern placement exams.
Through Northwestern coursework
Many students have not yet achieved proficiency in a foreign language when they finish high school. Some choose to begin a new language at Northwestern, while others choose to continue studying a language they started in high school. If you plan to continue with a language you have already started, be sure to take the appropriate placement exam so that you will know where to start. All incoming freshmen receive information on placement testing during the summer.
Weinberg College offers courses in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi-Urdu, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Persian (Farsi), Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, and Turkish. Though most language instruction includes development of both written and spoken languages, courses that concentrate primarily on reading are offered in some languages. Some language programs offer individualized instruction or accelerated classes which students may take to attain proficiency more quickly. Several language departments also offer an intensive summer program enabling students to complete a full year of the language during the summer session. For more information on the language programs and foreign language instruction at Northwestern, please review the brochure published by Northwestern's Council on Language Instruction, "Everything You Need to Know about Learning Languages at Northwestern."
To demonstrate foreign language proficiency through coursework done at Northwestern, you need to complete the third quarter of the second-year language sequence with a grade of C- or better. All earlier courses must be taken for a grade; they cannot be taken P/N.
By attending a high school where English was not the primary language of instruction
Students who did most of their high school coursework in a language other than English may be deemed proficient in that language based on that coursework. Such students should:
- Submit the Petition for Proficiency Validation Based on Attending a non-English High School and supporting documentation (high school transcript and letter of verification from a school official) to the Weinberg College Office of Undergraduate Studies and Advising (1922 Sheridan Road, 847-491-7560).
- If that office is not able to validate or evaluate their proficiency, then:
- If the foreign language is taught at Northwestern, students should contact the department where the language is offered for proficiency evaluation.
- If the foreign language is not taught at Northwestern, students should complete the Petition for Testing in a Language not Taught at Northwestern. The petition should be submitted prior to or during the student's first quarter at Northwestern.
Proficiency in a language not taught at Northwestern
Some students have extensive experience with a foreign language not taught at Northwestern, but do not fit category 3 above because they attended an English-language high school. Such students should complete the Petition for Testing in a Language not Taught at Northwestern. Again, the petition should be submitted prior to or during the student's first quarter at Northwestern.
Incoming Transfer Students
New transfer students who have not yet satisfied the Weinberg foreign language requirement or who have questions about foreign language study at Northwestern should consult the language coordinators in the relevant language departments. For information on language coordinators, consult Northwestern's brochure on "Everything You Need to Know about Learning Languages at Northwestern."
Disabilities Affecting Foreign Language Acquisition
In certain cases of diagnosed and documented disabilities affecting foreign language acquisition, students may apply to seek to satisfy the Weinberg foreign language proficiency requirement by using both language and non-language classes.
In such circumstances, the students should: