The Language Requirement

General Education Requirements are listed in the Stanford Bulletin.

Stanford undergraduate students are required to complete one year of college-level study or the equivalent in a foreign language. Students may fulfill the requirement in any one of the following ways:

  • Completing the first-year language course sequence (4-5 units per course) at Stanford or the equivalent at another recognized postsecondary institution, subject to current University transfer credit policies. Note that online and hybrid language courses do not fulfill the language requirement.*  Language courses at Stanford may be taken with the Credit/No Credit grading basis, if so offered, to fulfill the requirement. 
  • Scoring 4 or 5 on a foreign language Advanced Placement (AP) exam prior to college matriculation. AP Literature scores are not accepted.
    Registrar's Office AP Credit Chart
  • Scoring a 4 or 5 on the National Exam of World Languages (NEWL) prior to college matriculation (available in Arabic, Korean, Portuguese, and Russian)
  • Scoring a 5 or higher on a foreign language higher level International Baccalaureate (IB) exam prior to college matriculation.
    Registrar's Office IB Credit Chart
  • Achieving a satisfactory score on the SAT-II Subject Test in the following languages prior to college matriculation:
    • Chinese: 630
    • French: 640
    • German: 630
    • Modern Hebrew: 540
    • Italian: 630
    • Japanese: 620
    • Korean: 630
    • Latin: 630
    • Spanish: 630
  • Taking a placement test in a particular language and receiving a placement beyond first year courses in that language.

Students who have fulfilled the language requirement with official test scores or transfer credit and wish to pursue further study in the language must take the placement test to determine the most appropriate course for them.

International students whose native language is not English may contact the Language Center to inquire about an exemption from the language requirement. Note that, for the purposes of the language requirement, a "native speaker" is someone who has completed 10 or more years of schooling (all subjects) in a language other than English. Verification may be requested.

*Note: While the Language Center generally does not accept online coursework to fulfill the undergraduate language requirement, during the COVID-19 pandemic (until further notice),  online language courses taken outside Stanford may fulfill the university language requirement, if they meet the following criteria (online Stanford language courses are already designed to meet this criteria):

  • Must be given by a fully accredited institution of higher education
  • Must be at least 50 contact hours (interactive class time)
  • Must include an oral proficiency component
  • Must complete a first-year, college-level textbook
  • Must be approved by the Language Center through the transfer credit approval (or pre-approval) process
Language Requirement Policies

This is an academic language requirement.  Academic in this context means that all four language skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) are considered.   The purpose is to enable students to live, work, study, and research in a non-English speaking setting. 

One year of college-level instruction or its equivalent:

  1. Completing a first-year language sequence in one language at Stanford or the equivalent at another institute of higher education (the latter subject to transfer credit approval)
  2. Taking a Stanford language placement test and placing beyond first-year level
  3. Providing qualifying scores on the AP or SATII exam (varies per language)

Equivalencies

  1. Intermediate Mid oral proficiency; IM in writing proficiency; score in grammatical accuracy set by program (generally 85%) in English-cognate languages
  2. Novice High in oral proficiency; NH in writing proficiency; score in grammatical accuracy set by program (generally 85%) in non-English-cognate languages
  3. Native speakers of languages other than English (at least 10 years of schooling in the language, with all subjects taught in that language). Language Center verifies abilities in all 4 skills before granting the completion of the requirement.
    • Requests to be tested in languages not taught at Stanford should be made no later than the student's sophomore year.
    • The Language Center cannot guarantee that an examiner can be located for every language (students should have a backup plan).
    • More policy information can be found here.
Advanced Placement Policies

Please note: Literature scores are not accepted toward AP language credit.

A score of 5 on the Advanced Placement test in the following subjects would give 10 quarter units of credit. However, a placement test should be taken if continuing in the language.

  • Chinese Language and Culture
  • French Language
  • German Language
  • Japanese Language and Culture
  • Spanish Language

AP language scores of 4 fulfill the University Language Requirement. They do not confer language credit. If continuing in the language, take the placement exam.

Beyond the Language Requirement

Language programs at Stanford University are housed in the language departments (East Asian Languages, French and Italian, German Studies, Slavic, and Spanish and Portuguese) as well as through the Center itself (Arabic, Hebrew, Swahili, as well as an array of additional less-commonly taught languages) have committed themselves to imparting to students a set of second language literacies. This means that beyond having students informed about the belles lettres of the cultures they choose to study, all Stanford language programs are also committed to having students use their speaking, listening, reading and writing in the language of their choice for learning in all of their academic and personal endeavors.

For all languages at Stanford, proficiency objectives in each of the skill areas have been established for one year of study. For the most commonly taught languages (such as French, German, and Spanish), listening, speaking, reading, and writing objectives are set at the intermediate-mid level of the ACTFL-FSI scale [American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages-Foreign Service Institute]. In the non-cognate languages, the levels are set at novice high on the ACTFL-FSI scale. Students in each language program are assessed annually. Their performances indicate that they do indeed meet these objectives after one year (30 weeks) of foreign language instruction. Clearly, the Stanford language programs meet a high national standard. In addition to these fundamental standards that all programs meet, individual programs may meet additional objectives that are particularly important or specially reflective of their program traditions and student interests.