What Are the Different Types of Foreign Language Requirements?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Foreign language requirements often exist in both schools and places of employment. Schools may require students to take and pass classes in foreign languages to get a degree, and some may even require students to have foreign language proficiency in order to be admitted into a program of study. Employers may require job applicants to hold a level of proficiency in a foreign language as a qualification for the job. As such, foreign language requirements vary widely by institution.

In many countries, school children must complete certain foreign language requirements as part of their school curriculum. In fact, in some countries, children are required to learn several languages while they're in school. Some colleges or universities may also require applicants to have completed coursework in foreign languages. In the United States, high school students who have had many years of foreign language instruction may be able to either receive college credit for their years of study or may be eligible for placement in more advanced foreign language classes when they actually do enter university.


University students may have to meet foreign language requirements as a condition of receiving a degree from the school. These requirements may vary from having to complete one or two years of foreign language instruction in order to receive a bachelor's degree to doctoral students having to prove their competency in a foreign language in order to begin writing their dissertation. In some cases, foreign languages may be prescribed specifically by the course of study. For example, students in a Christian theological seminary may be required to take courses in biblical Greek and Hebrew.

Employers may find that knowledge or fluency in a foreign language is either required in order to perform a certain job or that job performance is significantly enhanced if the employee has knowledge of a foreign language. These employers may establish foreign language requirements for certain job positions. In some cases, a job applicant may actually need to establish his knowledge of a foreign language before he is considered for a position, while in other cases foreign language knowledge is a preferred credential that can help increase an applicant's chance of actually being hired. Foreign language requirements as established by a employer may reflect an employer's presence in a community in which many of its customers or clients speak that language. Some jobs, such as diplomatic or missionary work, may by their very nature require foreign language skills.


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Another kind of foreign language requirement is in graduate school. While college foreign language requirements tend to be focused on the number of courses completed, those for graduate school are not about coursework, but proficiency.

Some master's programs require that you have reading knowledge of a foreign language; others don't. But *most* PhD programs, at least in the humanities, require that you have reading knowledge or two foreign languages. In theory, these are supposed to be appropriate for your field of study. So for classics, for instance, French and German are good choices because a lot of research in the field is published in those languages. (Of course, that's in addition to knowing Latin and Greek for classics... plus maybe a little conversational Italian for visiting Rome.)

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