Currently viewing the tag: "Language requirement"

Not infrequently, we read application essays that describe an interest in studying languages while at Fletcher.  Depending on how much detail the applicant provides, we may sense that there’s a mismatch between what Fletcher offers and what the applicant is looking for.  Fletcher is not foremost a graduate school for cultural or language study, though many students certainly have a regional focus for their coursework or their career objectives.  Our assumption is that you’re going to arrive at Fletcher with proficiency in the language(s) you need for your studies and career.  At the very least, we expect you to have skills strong enough to pass the language exam, which is a requirement for graduation.  (If you’re close, but not quite proficient enough, we may make your admission conditional upon completion of an intensive language program.)

But that doesn’t mean that Fletcher students have no opportunity for language study.  Students may petition to take up to two language courses as part of their curriculum, and there are good reasons why someone would want to do so.  Let’s say that your focus is East Asia and you speak Mandarin.  You might want to acquire Japanese skills for your future career.  Using two of your credits for language courses, in that case, makes perfect sense.

If you want to develop your language skills, but don’t want to use course credits to do so, you may decide to audit a class.  The building that houses the University’s two language departments (the Department of Romance Languages and the Department of German, Russian and Asian Languages) is conveniently located right next to Fletcher, making it easy to dash over for classes.  The meaning of “audit” is between you and the instructor, and you may want to commit yourself to completing more or fewer of the class assignments.

Less formally, if what you’re looking for is a chance to keep up your skills, you may find fellow students who will want to join you.  Every year, students establish Chinese/French/Swahili/Russian/other study groups, where they might gather for coffee and a little exercise of the part of the brain that controls languages.

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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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In order to graduate, Fletcher students who are native English speakers need to demonstrate proficiency in at least one other language.  (Non-native English speakers demonstrate their proficiency in their second language — English — every day they are here.)  The first of the year’s reading exams was was offered on Saturday, and here, for the curious blog reader, is the breakdown of the 147 tests taken:

Spanish (56)
French (49)
Chinese (11)
Arabic (10)
Italian (6)
German (4)
Portuguese (3)
Russian (2)
Swahili  (2)
Hebrew (1)
Japanese (1)
Korean (1)
Urdu (1)

Test guru Ann Marie Decembrele, from the Registrar’s Office, also tells me that two students will make separate arrangements to test in Hindi.  All students who pass the reading exam will then contact a tester to schedule an oral exam.  Once both are passed, a graduation requirement can be checked off the list.

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Incoming students have been hearing a lot from the Registrar’s Office lately.  If you’re one of them, you may have started slogging your way through the many details (email accounts, Orientation schedules, final transcript submission, etc.), but I hope you’re also paying attention to the tips on pre-Fletcher preparation.  No, we’re not talking about reading all the professors’ or students’ book picks.  Just a little common sense advance work, and here’s my take on it.

For everyone:  Set aside some time to be certain you understand the requirements for your degree program.  Sure, you’ve looked at all this stuff before, but it’s different now.  At this point, your focus should be on giving yourself the best chance of picking classes in September that will either take care of requirements, or boost you toward your academic goals, or (even better!) both.

For native English speakers:  Make sure you’re ready to take and pass the language proficiency reading exam on Saturday, October 2.  Is it technically required that you pass the exam in October?  No…but why would you put it off?  Even if you’re not sure you can pass this time, take the exam.  Really.  Do not put it off.  And if you’re going to need some pre-test practice, now’s the time for it.

And for non-native English speakers:  Regardless of the strength of your language skills, you’ll benefit from giving them a pre-Fletcher workout.  Are you a slow reader in English?  Do lots of reading!  Is listening comprehension your personal challenge?  Listen to U.S. radio shows!  Even native speakers find the program challenging — add in language difficulties and you’re starting at a considerable disadvantage.  You still have nearly two months to narrow that gap, and you’ll be glad you did.

I wish you all an enjoyable and relaxing pre-Fletcher summer (or winter, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere), but I also want you to hit the ground running.  Devote just a little time to setting yourself up to succeed — it will be time well spent.

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Like many of our peers, Fletcher has a second language proficiency requirement for our degree programs.  If you are a native English speaker, you will be asked to demonstrate proficiency in a second language as a graduation requirement.  If you are a non-native English speaker, educated in your native language, then your second language is English, and you don’t need to think about this any further.  For those who do need to think further, here’s a rundown of the language proficiency exam.

Within a few weeks of the start of classes, the School administers reading exams in a bunch of different languages.  The exam is routinely offered in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swahili.  Additional exams are offered when a student wants to demonstrate proficiency in a less-commonly selected language.

I’ve looked at the exams in French, Spanish, Italian, and Mandarin, and my reaction is that the level of the piece to be translated is appropriate.  That is, anyone would think that if you can’t translate something of that complexity, you can’t really call yourself proficient.  There’s no intention to trick you with arcane vocabulary, but the passage to be translated won’t be simplistic, either.

Following the reading exam, there’s an oral exam, which is a conversation with a tester.  They’re usually instructors from the University’s languages department, but arrangements can be made with testers based elsewhere, as required to ensure students’ needs are met.

A lively debate took place recently on the “Social List” (student elist) about the exam.  While I’m sure they didn’t intend to, the students laid out the challenge that we face in Admissions — that it’s very difficult to compare the apples and oranges of language study applicants present.  What results in a higher proficiency level, three years of university study, or one year living in a country?  Ultimately, the answer will depend on each individual, and the fair way of determining proficiency is to test for it.

Sometimes we’re asked whether students can be admitted if they are not proficient in any modern language other than English.  Ummmmm.  Well, generally, no.  If you have no exposure to a second language, you’re facing too great a challenge to overcome in two years when language study isn’t your focus, and we just can’t admit people who will never graduate.  On the other hand, if you have a reasonable grounding in a second language, and could brush up your skills with an intensive summer program, then we’ll make your admission conditional.

One last point.  It’s December, and our current crop of applicants won’t start their studies until September.  Do you need to brush up on your second language?  Why wait until April?  Start now, and tell us your plan.  Don’t waste the next nine months, when you could instead turn the language exam into a breeze by firming up your proficiency.

There’s good information about the language exam on the web site, including the different levels of proficiency.

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The answer to that question falls into the “Who needs rules?” theme for this year’s blog.  Why does Fletcher limit language study for its students?  First, I suppose I should spell out the rule.  Students in the MALD program can take up to two language classes for credit as part of their degree study.  That’s two out of a total of sixteen.  And…we don’t even make it easy to take the two classes.  Students need to petition for the language credit, and they need to show that the language is a necessary element of their career preparation.

Why would we impose this limit?

Well, Fletcher is not a language school — it’s a graduate professional school of international affairs.  Students make real sacrifices, both financial and of time, to come here.  It’s the role of the School’s administration to ensure the academic integrity of each student’s program of study.  We all love learning languages!  But, in general, languages are not the focus of the Fletcher curriculum.

So when would language study be reasonable?  Here’s a simple example I like to cite:  A student who has worked in the Spanish-speaking countries of South America would like to further extend his work to Brazil.  In that case, proficiency in Portuguese is a career skill, and a petition to study would be straightforward.

But language study for it’s own sake isn’t part of the program.  Lucky for all of us, between classes offered by universities, adult education centers, or on-line, not to mention tutors or CD-based instruction, there are plenty of opportunities to build language skills before starting Fletcher study.  And, equally, to continue to learn during the course of a post-Fletcher career.

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The first of the year’s language proficiency exams was offered last weekend. To graduate, all Fletcher students need to demonstrate proficiency in a second language.  For non-native English speakers, their second language is, well, English.  For everyone else, the language exam is the opportunity to show their stuff.

There’s an oral component to the exam, which is scheduled by students individually.  The reading exam is a big community event.  And here are the languages in which the test was offered Saturday:  Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Swahili, Ukrainian, Urdu, and Vietnamese.  In other years, other languages might find their way onto the list, depending on student interest.

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