Friday, June 24, 2011

Foreign Language Requirements

The Ancient and Arethusa made some comments about Obama's second language knowledge and whether he had to have acquired a second language as a requirement for graduation from Columbia. The Ancient posted a link to Columbia's foreign language requirement as detailed in the bulletin.

The first way to satisfy the requirement is:
Satisfactory completion of the second term of an intermediate language sequence.

Somewhere, in the back of FLG's mind, he remembers that this is the generally accepted standard at most schools, including Georgetown College. But he forgot this because the School of Foreign Service's standard is much more rigorous, which makes sense given the school's purpose and name:
As a requirement for graduation, all students must fulfill the School of Foreign Service language proficiency requirement. The proficiency requirement certifies that students have command of a modern language other than English at the university or professional level.

Recently a change was made, and this level can be met during study abroad by passing a semester of courses conducted in a foreign language. When FLG did it, he had to take a test:
A two-member board, in larger departments selected at random from among the teaching faculty, examines each student individually. The proficiency examination measures:

reading comprehension
audio-lingual mastery
communicative competency
general knowledge of the cultural area in which the language is spoken

Each examination entails:

a reading comprehension component in which the student is given 15 minutes alone to read an article from a current weekly public affairs or news magazine without the aid of a dictionary;
a 20-minute oral component in which the student is asked by the examining board (a) to summarize the article briefly and answer questions relating to it and (b) to respond to a number of questions on the culture and civilization of the linguistic area as covered within the advanced coursework.

These examinations are separate from final course examinations.

As you can probably imagine, getting to this level of proficiency takes a while:
A student may take the proficiency examination after completing one course beyond Advanced II or Third Level II in the language, or received permission from the language department for an exception.

FLG, for example, took eight semesters of French. The students who took it throughout high school, of course, didn't have to do that. But that's a far sight from just getting a B in the second semester of Intermediate Spanish and being done.

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