Graduate Language Proficiency Requirement

Most Elliott School M.A. programs require proficiency in a second 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 language prerequisites needed for their application.

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 language proficiency exams 

Late October - early November: Fall semester language proficiency tests 

Late January - early February: Pre-registration for the Spring semester language proficiency tests 

Late March - early April: Spring semester language proficiency tests 

Please see this checklist (pdf) for step-by-step guides on how to register for the language proficiency exams.

NOTE: Currently enrolled students will receive via email the pre-registration announcement for the 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 Language Proficiency*

Language Reading Speaking

Advanced (MES students)

Intermediate High

Advanced (MES students)

Intermediate High

Chinese Intermediate High

Intermediate High

French Advanced Intermediate High
German Advanced Intermediate High

Advanced (MES students)

Intermediate High

Advanced (MES students)

Intermediate High

Italian Advanced Intermediate High
Japanese Intermediate High Intermediate High
Korean Intermediate High Intermediate High

Advanced (MES students)

Intermediate High

Advanced (MES students)

Intermediate High

Portuguese Advanced Intermediate High
Russian Intermediate High Intermediate High
Spanish Advanced Intermediate High

Advanced (MES students)

Intermediate High

Advanced (MES students)

Intermediate High

*Master of Arts in International Affairs students are required to obtain an intermediate low proficiency level in order to satisfy their language requirement. 

Levels of Language Proficiency

  • Reading — Intermediate Low: The student can understand some information from the very simple connected texts that pertain to a restricted range of personal and social necessities, though misunderstandings may occur. The student will encounter difficulties extracting meaning from connected texts of any length.
  • Reading — Intermediate Mid: 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 the 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 perform basic communicative tasks to a limited extent. They face challenges in responding to direct questions or fulfilling information requests. However, they can manage to ask a few appropriate questions. The conversation is often hindered by frequent linguistic errors and is very limited in both style and range. Although their vocabulary is sufficient to discuss the most elementary needs, misunderstandings are common. Despite these misunderstandings, Intermediate Low speakers can usually be understood by understanding and empathetic conversation partners, even if it requires repetition or rephrasing.

  • Speaking — Intermediate Mid: The student can handle a variety of uncomplicated communicative tasks in straightforward social situations, ask and answer questions, initiate and respond to simple statements, and engage in face-to-face conversation. The conversation, however, will contain linguistic errors and will be restricted in manner and scope. Vocabulary level will be enough for reactive functioning, such as providing responses to direct questions or fulfilling requests for information. 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 aspects may be occasionally lacking. During narrations or extended speech, they are able to 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 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 language proficiency exams. 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 student's exam request being canceled for that semester. No exceptions will be allowed.

Students are exempt from the diagnostic exam requirement if planning to test in a 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 Language Proficiency Requirement

Prior Coursework

Elliott School graduate students in non-regional studies programs may also satisfy the 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 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 through the buttons below 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 language assessment institution. Currently, the pre-approved institutions are:

Students may also search for other external testers through the Foreign Language Assessment Directory 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 Language Proficiency Exams may be eligible for 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 student's 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 institution.

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

Language Resources

Language Lunch on a multicolored background


Language Lunch

Students looking to improve their language proficiency are encouraged to attend the Language Lunches during the academic year. These will be held in person on Fridays from 12:00-1:00 p.m. 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. The Fall 2024 schedule will be posted over the summer. 


GLN logo: Global Language Network, illustration of a speech bubble that looks like a globe with two people speaking

Global Language Network

The 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.