A Student’s Guide to the Language Requirement

Who Must Fulfill the Foreign Language Requirement?

Students majoring in accounting, finance, management, marketing, nursing, pharmacy, engineering, or bio-med technology may be exempt from a foreign language requirement (read more). Read about the learning outcomes for the foreign language requirement.

All other majors are required to complete three credits in a foreign language course at the 102 level or higher.

Other Requirements Fulfilled by a Foreign Language Course

There are two other categories in the general requirements that may be fulfilled by a course from this department.

Literature and Fine Arts

Students must take one English or foreign languages course that is not pure writing in English or pure foreign language courses. This has to be a course in literature, culture, or film. Most of the English-language courses in the foreign languages department, such as French Literature in English Translation, German Cinema in English Translation, Civilization of the Spanish Peoples, will count here, as will advanced literature, film, and culture courses taught in the target languages.

Diversity and Global Studies

Acceptable Diversity or Global Studies courses are designated D or G in the catalog and the schedule of classes. Many Foreign Languages Department courses, except elementary level language courses, fulfill this requirement. If a student were to take Intermediate French/German/Spanish I to fulfill the language requirement, they could take Intermediate II to fulfill the Globalism requirement, and take your language abilities to a new level at the same time. All the courses taught in English in the foreign languages department will also fulfill the requirement.

Frequently-Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

There are several reasons for continuing to study a language that you have already begun studying in high school (or elsewhere).

  • You can fulfill your language requirement in one semester, whereas if you start a new language you will have to take two semesters.
  • You can advance much farther in your ability to actually use the language.
  • Studying at a slightly more advanced level can be much more rewarding, and actually a lot more fun, than starting over with the basics in a new language.

On the other hand, there can be reasons to start a new language. But many of the reasons that commonly motivate students to start a new language are not really good reasons.

  • You think it will be easier to start over at the beginning level, even though it means taking an extra semester. 
    • For most people, this is probably not true. If you had two or more years of a language in high school, even if you didn’t do really well and you’ve forgotten a lot, you have learned a good many basic structures and vocabulary items. Why start all over with how to say your name and the words for “pen” and “chalkboard,” when you could be building on what you know and moving on to much more interesting topics? TAKE THE PLACEMENT TEST, and see how you do. Chances are, it will confirm that you know more than you think and are ready for further study.
  • You took three years or more of a language in high school, but feel that you performed so poorly and learned so little that you are unqualified for anything beyond Elementary I, which you are not allowed to take for credit after taking three years in high school. So you feel you must start a new language.
    • You could be right, but you could be underestimating your abilities and overestimating the difficulty of the next level. TAKE THE PLACEMENT TEST, and see how you do. If you really do place into the beginning level, you will have to decide whether to take one semester for no credit and then continue the language, or to start a new language.
  • You are really interested in a different language for academic, personal, or future professional reasons. 
    • By all means go ahead and start a new language.

Studying a foreign language is a wonderfully enriching, mind broadening experience, and an important part of a general education. But for more concrete reasons, look at our country, and look at the world. Millions of Americans speak languages other than English, many millions more come from families that spoke another language not many generations ago.

Issues of immigration and language policy are frequent topics of political debate. Studying another language, any other language, will help you understand the issues faced by Americans who speak languages other than English, will help you understand the immigrant experience, may help you understand your neighbor, your family, or yourself.

The world is more interconnected than ever. Economic opportunities, economic threats, opportunities for international cooperation, and threats to our security are everywhere. Studying another language will help you understand all these things. Finally, studying a foreign language helps you understand the nature of language itself, one of the most essential aspects of our humanity.  

Yes, you have to take a placement test. Placement testing is a much more accurate way to place you in the best course than simply relying on how many years you studied, how long ago it was, or how you evaluate your own abilities. Remember, the point of the requirement is to learn something — to come out of your foreign language course or courses with more abilities in the language than you had going in. You won’t achieve this if you take a course below your true level to get an easy grade, and you won’t achieve it if you take a course above your true level and struggle to pass. 

Yes. If you took three years or more of a language in high school, you cannot receive credit for Elementary I (usually 101) in that language. If you took more than three years, you cannot get credit for Elementary II (usually 102). Shorthand: three years, no 101; four years, no 102Most people will place higher. These rules are intended to prevent students who somehow fall through the cracks in the placement system from getting credit for courses that are far below their true level.

Yes. We currently offer Elementary Spanish I and II online on a regular basis. We may add additional online language courses over time. The online courses include all the components of traditional classroom instruction. Our online courses are asynchronous — you do not have to be be online at the same time as the other students. This may make the course easier to fit into your schedule. Some students may prefer online work; others may do better in traditional classes. But do not assume that the online version will be easier or require less work.

Be careful in registering for online courses. Those offered by other units of Rutgers may also be available in Webreg. If you take these, you may run into difficulties. Placement requirements, learning outcomes, textbooks, and methodologies may be different from those used in our Camden courses. If you have difficulties, you may find it more difficult to resolve them, because the Camden Foreign Languages Department has no control over courses offered from New Brunswick or Newark. Watch for the “50” school code that indicates a Camden course.

For online courses offered by colleges and universities other than Rutgers, then the usual rules for transient credit apply.

High school programs vary enormously in how much they cover and how well. A student who had four years at one school might be at the same level as a student who had two years at another school. Individuals also vary enormously in how much they learn from a given amount of study. Testing thus provides a much more precise and individualized placement than merely relying on how many years a student has studied the language.

Because we want the course or courses you take to fulfill the foreign language requirement to be as meaningful as possible. There is no point in taking a course that repeats material you already know. There is equally no point in taking a course that is clearly too difficult for you. If you take the right level, you should have considerably more ability in the language at the end of the course than you did at the beginning. 

No! Many students appear to be inordinately fearful of Intermediate level courses. If that is your placement, then you should be ready for it, and you should do fine. In fact, Intermediate may be easier in some ways than elementary, because so much of the grammar will be a review of points already learned in elementary.

Students who identify themselves as native speakers or heritage speakers of a language other than English are treated in the same way as everyone else under these guidelines:

  • If they wish to study their non-English native language (provided it is one we teach here), they must follow placement guidelines and start at the appropriate level. Spanish speakers should normally take the placement test. French or German speakers should consult the department.
  • If they wish to study a different language, they should be placed in the same way as any other student. They may not receive course credit by examination simply for speaking a language other than English.

In general, transfer students who completed a foreign language course at the Elementary II level or above at their previous institution will receive transfer credit for that course, which will fulfill the Camden foreign language requirement. Any problems or questions should be referred to the chair of the foreign languages department.

Transfer students who have not completed the language requirement elsewhere should take the placement test and be placed just like first years. 

Students who receive a score of 4 or 5 on the ETS Advanced Placement Exam in French, German, or Spanish receive credit for Intermediate I (121 or 131) in that language.

You may have heard that we have some sort of “5 year rule” or “10 year rule” for foreign language placement. This is no longer the case. You should take the placement test, even if your last high school language course was several years ago. You may remember more than you think. In any case, the placement test is a much more accurate tool than simply looking at how many years you took and how long ago it was.

Additional Questions

For questions not answered here, contact the chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Dr. James Rushing.

Fields with no True Foreign Language Requirement

The business majors, along with nursing, pharmacy, engineering, and bio-med technology, have no foreign language requirement in the strict sense. They may, however, have other requirements that can or must be fulfilled through foreign language department courses, such as the humanities elective in nursing, or the “three credits from the offerings of the foreign language departments” in the School of Business.

Many students who do not have a true foreign language requirement in their field choose to take foreign literature, film, and culture courses taught in English. While these are excellent courses and can play an important role in your overall education, you shouldn’t take one because you assume it will be easier than a real foreign language course.

Consider your own strengths and weaknesses. If you’re better at memorizing than at writing essays, for example, you may be better off in a language course. Courses taught in English often require a considerable amount of reading, and grading is likely to be based to a significant extent on your ability to write essays about literary or cultural questions.

Many students are likely to have an easier time getting the grade they desire in a real foreign language course. Besides, there is something to be said for taking courses based on what you can gain by taking them rather than on what you can avoid by not taking them. Studying a foreign language, even if you don’t have to, can be an enormously rewarding experience, providing valuable insight into how other people live and a valuable tool for understanding the world and communicating with the people in it.