FAQ: Foreign Language

Looks like this forum is getting a lot of foreign language questions. Here are some frequently asked ones:

Q1: I took only [Language] 2 and 3 in high school, does that count as 2 or 3 years?

A1: At most colleges, the highest level completed is what counts. If level N is the Nth year course starting from the beginner course, than completing level N counts as N years (some high schools number the courses by semester; in this case, divide by 2 to get the level in terms of years). However, it has been reported that a few colleges prefer to see N actual courses in high school, even if you started at a level higher than 1 and your Nth course will be level N+1 or N+2.

Going the other way, taking beginner level courses in several languages tends to be less impressive. Taking level 1 of four different languages is generally not seen as anything close to completing level 3 or 4 of any one language.

If you are unsure about what a specific college wants, ask it directly if its web site is not clear.

Q2: I am a native or heritage speaker of a non-English language, and my skill in that language is higher than what the highest level course in my high school teaches. Do I need to take another language in high school?

A2: Some colleges look at it in terms of proficiency level. If you can prove a proficiency level at least as high as that which they require or recommend (often through an SAT subject or AP test score in a language), then they will accept that in lieu of high school language courses.

However, some other colleges, particularly more selective ones, expect students in English-speaking high schools to take a foreign language in high school even if they already have native or heritage knowledge of some other language. Taking another foreign language in high school can keep options to apply to those colleges more open.

If you are unsure about what a specific college wants, ask it directly if its web site is not clear.

Q3: [College X] wants some SAT subject tests. Can I submit the one for my native or heritage language?

A3: Some of those colleges who want SAT subject tests prefer that the SAT subject tests that they require or recommend do not include your native or heritage language. You can still submit such a score as an extra one (e.g. the third subject test to a college that requires two, as long as your two other subject tests fulfill the college’s requirements).

Q4: Do middle school language courses count?

A4: Middle school language courses may not be equivalent year for year to high school language courses, but they may place you into high school language courses higher than level 1. See Q1.

Q5: Do college language courses taken while in high school count?

A5: College language courses often cover material at a faster pace than high school language courses. A year of college language courses may be equivalent to two or even three years of high school language courses, depending on the high school or college. You need to check the high school and college for their equivalencies. If you take some high school language courses, then want to take college language courses, you may have to take a placement test before enrolling.

Q6: How do AP foreign language scores relate to placement in college foreign language courses?

A6: It depends on the college and the relevant department. Some use AP scores to recommend placement into various levels. Unlike most other AP scores, which tend to have passed versus not-passed threshold scores for advanced placement, it is possible for every different AP score to give a different placement (even a score of 2 may give placement higher than the beginner course in some cases, though higher scores may give higher placement). But some require or recommend their own placement tests before enrolling in foreign language courses, regardless of whether you have AP scores, since many students have some foreign language knowledge without AP scores.

You can check the college and department web sites to see what their placement guidelines are. If there is no information, ask the department directly.

Besides taking SAT subject tests is there any other way to prove to colleges language proficiency?


TOEFL. http://www.ets.org/toefl/

Thank you @fallenchemist

A lot of colleges will have their own proficiency exam they want students to take before placement in a language course. Also depending on the language, many countries have specific proficiency tests that are really the only ones accepted widely in business – Spain, Germany and the Netherlands are examples.

@dooba01 CLEP exams are available for French,Spanish, and German. https://clep.collegeboard.org/exams/offered

Some colleges say they want “four years of a language”, while others say they want “all four years of a language”. Does the “all” mean even if you’ve reached level 4 before senior year, you should go on to the AP level in order to have language every high school year?

See Q1/A1. If you are not sure about a given college, ask it directly.

Is anyone aware of a college (any college) that would not be satisfied with a student who took AP French her junior year (the highest French available at her high school)?

Are there colleges that would want her to take an intro course to a second foreign language or try to get permission to do an independent study for French during her senior year? My D was hoping to use the slot for an AP Econ or something else. Can’t imagine there would be too many schools that would have a problem with that, but was wondering…

Once she narrows her college selections, she can contact schools to ask the question, if necessary, but she may have to make course selection choices before that happens.


I am fluent in Swedish, which obviously isn’t the most common language. Do you think this will be an impressive factor to admissions or will they not give it much thought?

Thank you for any input!


@Lakritz If you are Swedish or were born in a Swedish speaking area, likely not.
If you self-studied for the class and have proof of proficiency, it will likely be viewed only as an interesting factor, not given much weight.

How is American Sign Language seen as a language option for colleges?


Thank you for your response. I was born here, but my mother taught me Swedish. I’m sure I’ll end up adding it anyways, it can’t exactly hinder my chances.

@Lakritz No problem. And I didn’t mean to hinder you placing it, knowing more than one language is always a good thing!

@LKnomad I am interested in this question too. My younger D is in 9th grade and was just diagnosed with dyslexia. The psychologist who evaluated her and the dyslexia specialist both recommend she do ASL instead of French, which is what she is currently enrolled in and struggling with. I know that some schools accept ASL, including our in state universities. http://www.mlschools.org/Page/3128.

Education is always evolving. A little over a hundred years ago, major liberal arts college and status universities wouldn’t accept students who didn’t have proficiency in both Greek and Latin. Business was a “trade” that had no place in higher education. I didn’t know ASL is becoming accepted as a major language along with the now typical French-Spanish-German-Chinese languages. Thanks for posting the list.

@SoccerMomGenie Your situation is similar to ours. My daughter’s guidance counselor told her to take an independent study for Mandarin in her senior year because they do not offer AP. Her independent study will basically consist of self studying for the AP test, plus a bit more like helping the teacher in the lower levels.

My junior S has taken 3 years of honors Latin with an A average. After this year he will have completed his language requirment for his high school. However, his guidance counselor has recommended that he complete a 4 year sequence of Latin. The counselor claims this will look better on his applications. While he has done well in all his Latin courses, he doesn’t neccesarily enjoy the subject and would rather take a more enjoyable elective. So his choice is boring Latin 4 honors (he wont take AP Latin) or an interesting elective. Any opinions?

Interesting elective, since the main point of studying is to learn, and learning is best achieved when the student finds the subject enjoyable. It’ll also be useful on the applications since it adds breadth. Besides, his happiness is important–and being more happy is also likely to help him perform better in other subjects.

@Lakritz : you can indicate “Swedish” for “Language spoken at home” in addition to English, and present a certificate of proficiency from a cultural center if you’ve taken one. Proficiency in several languages is always a plus. If in addition you are bicultural (have adopted Swedish cultural values, have lived in Sweden some time and navigate the differences between the two cultures) it’s even better. Some colleges value this highly, such as Dickinson and Middlebury, plus of course all the Scandinavia-related colleges, of which St Olaf is the most famous (Norway), and Gustavus Adolphus (Swedish), plus Luther and Pacific Lutheran.