Monday, January 10, 2011

The Importance of Being Lingual

Languages have always held a special place at SAIS. They play an important role in international relations and  in many cases help define national identity.

From its inception, SAIS has believed that anyone who aims to work in the international arena needs to master at least one foreign language. Such mastery reflects a commitment to broadening one's horizons and is a key to a deeper appreciation of another culture and of international relations.

There are two language requirements at SAIS: for entry and for exit.


As English is the language of instruction, students must have an excellent command of that language. Native English speakers need not prove fluency. The same holds true for non-native speakers who have completed a full degree program in English in a country where English is an official language.

Others should submit the results of one of three tests -- TOEFL, Cambridge Proficiency in English or IELTS -- taken not more than two years previously.

We receive a great many questions about the English proficiency exams. Some non-native speakers feel they have attained proficiency by studying overseas or by working in an English-speaking environment.

That can well be the case. But it's important that both the applicant and SAIS should be convinced the candidate's English is strong enough for the student to thrive in a highly challenging academic program. It would be unfair to the candidate and to other students if their English were not up to par. (For a definition of native English speakers, click here.)

So we tell candidates to please plan early to take the TOEFL, Cambridge or IELTS test. Non-native speakers are welcome to submit applications while still waiting for the results of an exam. But they should understand that applicants who have provided proof of proficiency will be at an advantage.

So much for the language requirement for entrance. Now the requirements for graduation.


To receive a master's, one must prove proficiency in one of the languages taught at SAIS. Here are the languages taught at SAIS Bologna: Arabic, advanced English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

SAIS Bologna Language Faculty 2010
SAIS Washington offers the same eight languages plus Chinese, Hindu-Urdu, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian (Farsi), Thai and Vietnamese. So all told, there are 16 languages taught at SAIS.

A few things to keep in mind:

- Non-native speakers of English must take a written English placement exam upon arrival to campus. Students who need to improve their English to reach the satisfactory level take the advanced English course during their first semester.

- Proficiency exams are for students who have completed a level 4 course in a language at SAIS, or who have otherwise reached an advanced level in the relevant language. At SAIS Bologna, proficiency exams are administered in October, January and May.

- Some regional concentrations require specific languages to meet their graduation requirements.

For more information on the language program and its requirements, click here. If you have any questions, send us a comment or an email.

Tomorrow: Fellowships and financial aid

Nelson Graves

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