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, Czech, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Turkish, and Yiddish. 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 Northwestern's "Everything You Wanted to Know About Learning Languages at Northwestern" brochure.

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.

View a table showing courses that fulfill the foreign language proficiency requirement.

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:

  • First, go to the Weinberg Office of Undergraduate Studies and Advising (1922 Sheridan Road, 847-491-7560) in order to have their foreign language proficiency validated based on their high school transcripts.
  • If that office is not able to validate or evaluate their proficiency, and 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 Proficiency Validation. The petition must be submitted no later than 4 PM on the last day to drop a class during a student’s first regular quarter (i.e., fall, winter, or spring) on campus.

Special circumstances

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 Proficiency Validation. Again, the petition must be submitted no later than 4 PM on the last “drop date” during the student’s first regular quarter (i.e., fall, winter, or spring) on campus.

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 "Everything You Wanted to Know About Learning Languages at Northwestern" brochure.

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: