Do You Have to Take a Foreign Language in College?

Do You Have to Take a Foreign Language in College?

6 minute read

Many colleges require their students to take at least a few semesters of a foreign language as part of their core courses, or general education requirements. But do you have to take a foreign language in college, really? And what part do foreign language classes play in your college education? How many classes do you need to take in order to graduate? And what’s the best way to fulfill those requirements?

We’ll break down the benefits of learning foreign languages in college and ways to meet your school’s requirements.

What Are Foreign Language Classes?

In a foreign language class, you’ll engage in immersive learning, focusing on linguistic proficiency and cultural nuances with the goal of having at least a basic foundation in that language. Most colleges offer several languages to choose from. Some of the most common foreign language classes in college are Spanish, French, German, and Japanese.

Why Foreign Language Classes Are Important

Foreign language classes prepare you for global communication and cultural understanding. They expand your horizons so you can be a productive member of the larger world community. 

However, there are even more benefits of foreign language classes in college than a well-rounded education. Here are some of the ways foreign language classes can benefit you during college and after graduation:

Knowing a Foreign Language Could Benefit Your Career

Many employers value bilingual or multilingual skills because they open doors to global opportunities. Knowing a foreign language enhances your communication abilities, a necessary skill in many workplaces. This skill set not only enriches your resume but also demonstrates adaptability and cultural awareness across many industries and fields. It means potential employers see you as more than a coder, a nurse, or a teacher — they see you as a global citizen.

Foreign Languages Can Be Important Communication Tools

Learning a foreign language can give you additional communication tools as you move through the world. For students who wish to study abroad, proficiency in the local language can help them form deeper connections with the people they meet. Knowing a foreign language goes beyond rote textbook memorization so that you truly understand how to communicate with people from other countries and form more robust relationships.

Foreign Languages Can Help You Understand Other Cultures

Learning a new language is more than memorizing vocabulary and sentence structure. It provides you with a new way of thinking via insight into another culture. How do other cultures describe things or express themselves? Foreign language classes offer these types of insights into diverse communities. In our interconnected world, it’s more important than ever to be able to translate more than what someone is saying and be able to interpret what they mean.

Learning Foreign Languages Activates Your Brain

Studies show that the process of learning a new language activates the parts of your brain responsible for creativity and critical thinking — two skills you’ll definitely need throughout college and beyond.  These classes also help improve your memory and problem-solving skills. Going beyond the ability to communicate when you travel, the process of attending a foreign language class and learning the vocabulary and sentence structure of another language helps your brain grow and perform better.

What is a Foreign Language Requirement in College?

In college, a foreign language may be part of your school’s mandatory general education requirements, necessitating a specified number of language courses. You may need to complete these courses, earn a certain number of credits in a foreign language, or pass a language proficiency exam in order to graduate.

Do All Colleges Require Foreign Languages?

Not all colleges require you to take a foreign language during your undergraduate studies, but most do. Be sure to check your particular school’s foreign language requirements.

How Many Years of a Foreign Language Do Colleges Require?

College foreign language requirements vary from school to school. Some institutions mandate a minimum of two years of language study for graduation, while others set a four-year expectation. And some schools have no foreign language requirements. 

How to Complete a College Foreign Language Requirement

There are several ways to complete your college’s foreign language requirement. 

Enrolling in Foreign Language Classes at Your College

There is, of course, the obvious path of simply taking the required amount of foreign language courses during your college career. This usually means taking the same language up to a certain level rather than several beginner-level classes of different languages. 

However, some schools may allow for a mix of different language courses to fulfill your requirements. For example, your college may give you the option of either taking 3 semesters of one language or 2 semesters of one language paired with 2 semesters of an alternate language to fulfill the language requirement. If you are curious about your options for completing your requirements at your school, you can set up a meeting with your academic advisor. 

Taking Advanced Placement Classes in High School

Advanced Placement (AP) language classes taken in high school can sometimes be credited, depending on your college’s policy. They may require a certain score from your foreign language AP exam to receive credits. This route would prevent you from needing to take an additional proficiency exam to test out of your foreign language requirements.

Completing Your Foreign Language Courses Online

Online language courses, recognized for their flexibility, may also be an option. Platforms like StraighterLine offer easy and affordable ways to meet many schools’ foreign language requirements up to a certain number of credits. 

Taking a Proficiency Exam to Wave Requirements

Certain colleges may allow students with previous foreign language experience to pass an exam demonstrating their command of the language, which would waive the foreign language requirement. 

For example, if you’ve a taken foreign language in high school or are already bilingual or multilingual, you may also be able to test out of some or all of the course requirements. 

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