Native English-speaking Fletcher applicants can be organized by language proficiency into four groups:
1. Those with essentially no foreign language skills at all. It’s very rare that we admit someone in this group.
2. Those with beginning-level skills in one or more languages.
3. Those with intermediate-level skills in one or more languages.
4. Those who are truly proficient in one or more languages.
I’m going to ignore group 4 for this post. You don’t need me.
Those in the other three groups may have been admitted outright, or may have been admitted with the condition that you pursue a language program this summer. If your admission wasn’t conditional, but you know in your heart of hearts that you won’t be able to pass the language exam, you may also want to pursue formal study this summer. But what kind of program is the right kind of program? I wish there were a formula I could share with you, but it turns out to depend on a collection of factors, such as:
What language do you plan to test in?
What is your level of proficiency? (This is between you and yourself now — be honest!)
What skills do you need/want to focus on?
Do you want to study in a country where that language is spoken, or in your home country?
What’s your schedule for the summer?
Once you’ve figured out all that, you’ll want to look around for a program. Maybe a two-month intensive program will be required. Maybe a single upper-level course will be enough. Maybe two weeks in the country where your language is spoken will refresh your speaking skills enough to get you through the exam. We know what the requirement is, but we don’t have much information (besides your self-assessment) on your current skill level.
So let me use myself as an example. If I were applying to Fletcher, I’d probably list all of the languages to which I have any exposure at all. (O.K., I’ll leave off Italian, which is limited to some basic tourist phrases and the names of my favorite restaurant dishes — not likely to get me through the exam.) The language section of my application would then look like this:
Spanish: Speaking — beginning; Reading — beginning;
French: Speaking — beginning; Reading — beginning;
Mandarin: Speaking — intermediate; Reading (simplified characters) — intermediate;
It would be unrealistic for me to test in Spanish. There’s only so far those residual skills from high school are going to take me.
I’ve given myself the same self-evaluation in French as in Spanish, but French would be a realistic testing language for me. I have many more years of study, continuing through my first year of college. But to test in French, I would definitely need a summer course, preferably in a French-speaking environment. With reading and speaking practice (and a chance to refresh my listening comprehension), I feel confident I could study my way back to proficiency.
But almost surely I would test in Mandarin. I studied in both the U.S. and China, where I lived for two years. I visited a few years ago and was able to get around easily (though my vocabulary needed refreshing to capture technology terms). Fletcher wouldn’t have made language study a condition of my admission, but I know I should brush up. In this case, though, I wouldn’t need formal study. A daily session with a newspaper and a dictionary will take care of the reading requirement. I’d watch some Chinese movies or find online resources for radio or television shows, and by the first administration of the reading exam in October, I’d be all set.
So, incoming students, unless you’re truly proficient in reading and speaking a second language, consider what steps you need to take before starting your Fletcher classes. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, you’ll want to consider your own starting point and make choices to ensure you’ll be proficient in both the reading and speaking of your chosen language.
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