Foreign Language Proficiency Requirement

Most Elliott School M.A. programs require proficiency in one foreign language. The methods to meet this requirement vary depending on the program. These reflect the requirements for current students only. Prospective students should refer to their intended program page for foreign language prerequsites needed for their application.

Timeline for Exams

Online self-administered diagnostic examination must be taken before registering for the language proficiency test or the 1-credit professional skills language courses.

Late August: English for Academic Purposes (EAP) Placement Examination 

Early September: Pre-registration for the Fall semester foreign language proficiency exams 

Late October - early November: Fall semester foreign language proficiency tests 

Early February: Pre-registration for the Spring semester foreign language proficiency tests 

Late March - early April: Spring semester foreign language proficiency tests 

NOTE: Currently enrolled students will receive via email the pre-registration announcement for the foreign language proficiency tests from the Office of Graduate Student Services.

Cancellation Policy: Students looking to cancel their exam must do so no less than 24 hours before their scheduled exam time. Students who do not show or cancel less than 24 hours before the exam will be charged a cancellation fee. By signing up for an exam, you consent to the Elliott School charging you a $50 fee should you fail to either show up or cancel your exam with at least 24 hours’ notice.


Required Levels for Foreign Language Proficiency






Advanced (MES students)         

Intermediate High

Advanced (MES students)

Intermediate High


Intermediate High

Intermediate High



Intermediate High



Intermediate High


Intermediate High

Intermediate High



Intermediate High


Intermediate High

Intermediate High


Intermediate High

Intermediate High


Advanced (MES Students) 

Intermediate High

Advanced (MES Students)

Intermediate High



Intermediate High


Advanced (EES Students)

Intermediate High

Intermediate High



Intermediate High

Turkish Intermediate High Intermediate High


Reading — Intermediate Low

The student can understand some facts and main ideas in simple connected texts dealing with basic personal and social needs. These texts would have a clear and simple structure and provide information with which the student is familiar or is required to make only minimal suppositions. The student may make occasional errors in understanding.

Reading — Intermediate High

The student can fully understand simple connected texts dealing with basic personal and social needs; comprehend main ideas and information in texts at the next higher level featuring description and narration. Structural complexity may interfere with comprehension; e.g., basic grammatical relations may be misinterpreted and temporal references may rely primarily on lexical items. Some difficulty with the cohesive factors in discourse may be evident, such as matching pronouns with referents. While texts do not differ significantly from those at the advanced level, comprehension is less consistent. The student at this level may have to read material several times for full understanding.

Reading — Advanced

The student can easily read and understand several paragraphs if the text has a clear underlying structure and familiar sentence patterns. The student comprehends the main ideas and facts but misses some details. Comprehension arises from situational and subject matter knowledge as well as increasing control of the language. Texts at this level include descriptions and narrations such as short stories, news items, bibliographical information, social notices, personal correspondence, business letters and simple technical material written for the general reader.

Speaking — Intermediate Low

The student can handle a limited number of communicative tasks and social situations successfully, ask and answer questions, initiate and respond to simple statements, and engage in face-to-face conversation. The conversation, however, will contain frequent linguistic errors and will be very restricted in manner and scope. Vocabulary will be sufficient to discuss the most elementary needs, but there will be frequent misunderstandings. The intermediate-low speaker is generally understood by sympathetic interlocutors.

Speaking — Intermediate High

The student can handle most communicative tasks and social situations successfully and can initiate and sustain a general conversation with strategies appropriate to diverse circumstances and topics but errors are evident. Limited vocabulary causes some hesitation and may produce unexpected circumlocution. However, there is emerging evidence of connected discourse (i.e., the ability to speak in whole paragraphs), particularly for simple narration and/or description. The intermediate-high speaker is generally understood by interlocutors, who are unaccustomed to dealing with speakers at this level, but repetition may still be required.

Speaking — Advanced

The student at the advanced level participates in informal conversations related to school, leisure and home life, and at times in formal situations in these environments. Advanced speakers can carry on a lengthy conversation in all tense forms though aspect may be occasionally lacking. During narrations or extended speech they are able link sentences together with smooth conjunctions. Some literal translations and false cognates still appear, showing the speakers' reliance on native structure. The conversation flow of an advanced speaker remains substantive with only occasional hesitation, grammatical errors, self-correction and sometimes generic vocabulary. They are understood by native speakers who do not have the habit of understanding non-natives, or are able to make themselves understood with repetition or rephrasing. 

Disclaimer: Language proficiency levels listed above are based solely on internal George Washington University grading standards. Students with questions regarding the foreign language proficiency exam are strongly encouraged to speak with their academic advisor.


Online Self-Administered Diagnostic Examinations

Diagnostic examinations are required in order to register to take the Elliott School foreign language proficiency exams or the IAFF 6504 language skills courses. In order to be eligible for exam registration or skills course registration, students must receive a score in at least the “intermediate-level” range. Please note that students must send a screenshot of their diagnostic exam score to [email protected] when registering. Failure to do so by the end of the exam registration period will result in the students exam request being cancelled for that semester. No exceptions will be allowed.

Students are exempt from the diagnostic exam requirement if planning to test in language for which a diagnostic exam is not offered below.

Students may take the online diagnostic exam in more than one language, but the exam cannot be repeated in the same language within a two-month timeframe. These diagnostic examinations provide only a rough estimate of language proficiency. Therefore, a certain diagnostic score is no guarantee of passing the proctored Elliott School language proficiency exam at the required level.


Other Options to Satisfy the Foreign Language Proficiency Requirement

Prior Coursework

Elliott School graduate students in non-regional studies programs may also satisfy the foreign language proficiency requirement through prior coursework. Students will need to work with their academic adviser to show that they have completed six semesters or equivalent of foreign language study at an accredited institution, with a grade of "B" or higher in the sixth course. In addition, this final course must have been taken within three academic years of the semester and year that the student enrolled at the Elliott School. Students may submit a request to have prior coursework reviewed.

Submit Prior Coursework Review Request

One-Credit Professional Skills Courses

The Elliott School currently offers one-credit professional skills language courses (IAFF 6504) in these languages:

  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • French
  • Russian
  • Spanish

Students with intermediate-level proficiency may take these courses to improve their language ability and to prepare for the language proficiency examination. In order to enroll in these courses, students must first take the online diagnostic test in the corresponding language and achieve a score in at least the intermediate-level range. For non-regional studies M.A. programs, students may fulfill their language requirement by demonstrating the required level of language proficiency in the context of this one-credit course through an evaluation administered by the instructor. Students in the M.A. regional studies program may use this one-credit course to improve their language skills, but they must still take the Elliott School language proficiency test.

Additional Language Coursework

Earning a grade of a B or higher in a sixth semester university-level advanced language course at GW or another higher education institution approved by your academic advisor.

External Testing

Students in non-regional studies programs may also show proficiency by achieving the required proficiency level in an outside reading and speaking examination administered by an Elliott School-approved foreign-language assessment institution. Currently the pre-approved institutions are:

- Language Testing International (LTI)

- International Center for Language Studies (ICLS)

ICA Languages

- The International Language Institute (ILI)

Students may also search for other external testers and request approval through their academic advisor. Testers are approved on a case-by-case basis. Official results must be sent directly to [email protected] or mailed to 1957 E Street NW, Suite 603, Washington, DC 20052.

Cost Assistance for Language Exams Not Offered at GW

Students who wish to show proficiency in a language not offered through the Elliott School Foreign Language Proficiency Exams may be eligible potential cost assistance from the Elliott School.

  • Language exam cost assistance will cover up to the full cost of the exam.
  • Any cost assistance is only available for the first attempt at taking an external language exam and is not available for subsequent attempts. Any additional attempts would be at the students' expense.
  • The Elliott School reserves the right to select the testing organization if a student accepts language exam cost assistance. The Elliott School will assist students with finding an external testing organization when possible. Students are responsible for finding and receiving prior approval for any external test if not offered at a pre-approved instution. 


Students who wish to use an external test in a language offered through the Elliott School Foreign Language Proficiency Exams are allowed to do so, but are not eligible for cost assistance from the Elliott School.

Language Resources

Language Lunch flyerLanguage Lunch

Students looking to improve their language proficiency are encouraged to attend the Language Lunches during the academic year. These will be held on Fridays from 12:00-1:00 pm. The Language Lunches are not only a great opportunity to practice your language skills, but also to meet new people and learn about new cultures. Students can practice the following languages during these lunches: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Turkish.  Please see the Spring 2020 Language Lunch schedule here

Global Language Network

GLN is a non-profit organization working to provide opportunities to learn any language at a minimal cost. They offer affordable language classes in more than 60 languages, using a communicative approach that builds learners’ communication skills in an interactive and enjoyable environment. Their unique pricing structure means classes fill up quickly, so check their schedule regularly.