Skip navigation

FAQs about Foreign Languages at Stanford

Part 1:
Part 2:
Language Offerings
Part 3:
Language Learning
What's language learning like at Stanford?
Language learning at Stanford is constructed to enhance your academic program. We want you to be able to use whichever language you choose to develop your knowledge of the world. Language learning at Stanford is developmental. We present material, and ask you to use it through all the language modalities—speaking, listening, reading, and writing—so that we can provide you with a larger and more sophisticated vocabulary and structures, enabling you to use your language in a variety of foreign settings. We also use authentic, profession-oriented materials. We want you to see, read, and be able to speak about topics and issues directly related to the cultures you are studying.
Is it smart to take lots of languages?
Absolutely. Research indicates that each language you add becomes easier to learn. It's the first that's the hardest!
Are there attendance requirements in language classes?
Each language program has very strict attendance requirements as well as excused absence policies. Research indicates that learning a language comes about through interaction; if you are not in your class to actively practice the language, your performance will suffer. Research further indicates that the more time you spend in interaction in class, the higher your performance in all language skills will be.
I am anxious and uncomfortable about taking a language. What should I do?
Try a language with lower enrollments such as Russian, Modern Greek, Korean, Persian, Catalan, Hebrew, or Xhosa. Small numbers in classes make for extra personal attention. Remember, all instructors want you to learn a language and love its culture.
Are there Performance Standards?
All language programs at Stanford have set high performance standards for each yearly sequence. We want to make sure that you can speak with confidence and read and write with accuracy and sociolinguistically appropriate diction and rhetorical structure.
In the non-cognate languages (such as Chinese, Japanese, and Russian) we have set the novice-high level of oral proficiency on the ACTFL/FSI (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages/Foreign Service Institute scale) for one year of instruction. At the novice-high level, speakers begin to create with the language and interact with it. It is characterized by mostly memorized utterances and needs a sympathetic listener. In the cognate languages (such as French and Spanish) we have set the Intermediate-Mid level on the ACTFL/FSI (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages/Foreign Service Institute scale) for one year of instruction. At this level, speakers can participate in simple conversations and ask questions. Language is mainly in the present tense and constitutes simple descriptions in informal settings on self-related topics. The level also presupposes a sympathetic listener. Parallel proficiency standards have been established for writing.
How are students assessed in meeting these performance standards?
Students completing the requirement are administered a Simulated Oral Proficiency Interview (SOPI) and a Writing Proficiency Assessment (WPA).
What level of language should each student have as a goal?
While the novice and intermediate levels are adequate to meet the most basic needs in a foreign setting, students should prepare themselves to use language in professional settings by studying well beyond one year. Students should try to reach the Advanced level on the ACTFL/FSI (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages/Foreign Service Institute scale). This level enables a speaker to give detailed explanations, instructions, and descriptions, and to narrate comfortably and accurately in past, present, and future tenses. It assumes that a speaker can handle conversations in a wide variety of informal and formal situations as well as complications in those settings. It also expects learners to handle general interest as well as personal topics. Second-year courses at Stanford focus on developing these proficiencies.
How many students reach this goal?
We have more than 600 students enrolled in second-year courses (and beyond) each year. The major in International Relations requires this level of ability.
I love language learning, but don't want to major in it. Is there anything I can do?
Consider a minor in any of the languages attached to a major or pursue the Minor in Modern Languages, designed to acknowledge your proficiencies in two languages. See for details. Also, consider pursuing the Proficiency Notation. In order to receive the proficiency notation, you must complete an official oral proficiency interview and official writing proficiency test, for approval. See for complete details.
I love language learning and want to major in modern languages in general. What can I do?
There is no general major in modern languages. See above for options. Speak with an advisor in the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages (