Tuesday, June 19, 2012

English: SAIS's lingua franca

Johns Hopkins University's motto might be in Latin, but English is the lingua franca at SAIS.

"Veritas vos Liberabit" is written on the Hopkins seal -- "The Truth Will Set You Free". Latin may not be taught at SAIS, but 17 other languages are.

Still, to gain admission and then to graduate, one must master English.

We receive as many questions about the English requirements at SAIS as we do about any other subject. We'll tackle other aspects of the application in later posts, but today let's focus on English.

Prospective applicants should keep one important thing in mind: to thrive at SAIS, a student needs to read hundreds of pages a week (or even day), write long papers, follow complicated class discussions and participate actively -- all in English.

The proficiency requirements for admission are not erected to make life difficult for candidates. They are there to make sure our students can function fully and comfortably in the main language of study.

Last week we announced that our deadline for applications for 2013-14 has been moved up to January 7, 2013. That may seem a long way away, but it will soon be at hand. Now is a great time to start mapping your strategy; for non-native English speakers, that can mean thinking about English competency exams.

How do we define "native English speaker"? At SAIS, a native English speaker meets at least two of the following three criteria:
  • English is the main language of communication between you and one of your caregivers;
  • English is an official language in the community where you grew up (before high school);
  • English is the language of instruction in the high school you attended.
If you do not meet at least two of these criteria, you will have to submit the results of one of these tests:
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
  • International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
  • Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE)
N.B. If you completed a full undergraduate degree program in English, in an English-speaking country, you are exempt from this rule. Note that it has to be a full degree in an English-speaking country. It is not enough to do a full degree in English in a country where English is not an official language. Or part of a degree in an English-speaking country.

The minimum scores for admission are 100 on TOEFL's Internet-based test, 7.0 on IELTS's academic test and any passing grade on the CPE.

Because these tests may be unfamiliar, you might want to consider taking them more than once to maximize your chances of doing well. If that is the case, you still have time between now and our January 7 application deadline to take the test twice.

Depending on their results, admitted candidates who are non-native English speakers may be required or advised to take intensive English in pre-term.

Then at the beginning of the Fall semester, all non-native English speakers must take the reading and writing sections of the SAIS English Proficiency exam. Those who do not perform satisfactorily will be required to take the Advanced English course or the English Writing workshop.

Finally, non-native speakers must prove their English proficiency to receive some of the SAIS degrees. Why would SAIS  test one's command of English if proficiency is required for admission? That is because SAIS makes sure its graduates are fluent in the vernacular of international relations.

The exit requirements are quite complicated. To read chapter and verse, consult this two-page summary.

Mini quiz for the linguists among you: What does the abbreviation "N.B." (used above) stand for?

Nelson Graves


Marko Grujicic said...

"N.B." - nota bene means "note well" and it is used to draw attention of the reader to a particular aspect of the subject.

Nelson Graves said...

Well done, Marko. For reading all the way to the end of the post, for knowing what "N.B." means and for sharing your knowledge with our readers. We like your "M.O."!