Undergraduate Language Proficiency Process

Most Elliott School students complete their third year language proficiency requirement by taking course work.  Students either continue a language they have previously studied by taking a placement exam, and then register for the course they placed into, or they start a new language of study and take that language through the end of the third year.  If students place beyond the third year, some students choose to register for a language course more advanced than the third year, and then upon successful completion of that course their language requirement is satisfied (if the course has the second semester of the third year as a prerequisite and if they receive a C- or better.)

International students who were required to take a TOEFL (or IELTS) exam as part of their admissions application to GW will automatically have their language requirement satisfied for the B.A. and B.S. in International Affairs majors.  Our regional majors require the language be associated with the region of study, therefore the TOEFL will not automatically satisfy the language requirement - instead, the Elliott School will need to confirm the language is associated with the region of study. If you are an F-1 student from a country where English is not predominantly spoken but you were not required to submit an English language exam as part of your application to GW, you can submit a request to have your language requirement satisfied without taking coursework or language exam.  Please see additional details in the Language Proficiency Request section of this website. For more information about this process, contact your Elliott School Academic Advisor

Another option is documenting proficiency through taking an Elliott School coordinated language proficiency exam.  If you are a current undergraduate Elliott School student interested in taking an Elliott School coordinated language proficiency exam, please read the information below carefully in regards to eligibility and the steps you must take in order to request approval to take the exam.  These exams are only offered once per fall and spring semester, and your request to take an exam must be submitted within the first two weeks of the semester in which you wish to take the exam.

Jump to a section:



To be eligible to take a proficiency exam, you must meet one of the following criteria:

  1. You are a native or heritage speaker of the language
  2. You have formal university language study (6 semesters or more)
  3. Your proficiency is beyond the GW third year language coursework and you are opting not to take a more advanced language course (i.e. you studied abroad, took private language lessons, grew up in a bilingual household, etc.)


Language Exam Request

If you meet one of the above eligibility criteria, please submit an online Language Exam Request within the first two weeks of the semester in which you wish to take the exam.

You should specify the language and the semester in which you wish to take the proficiency exam in your request.* All students must take the on-line language diagnostic exam (see below) and include a screen shot of the diagnostic exam results in their request.

Your request will be reviewed by our language coordinator and the coordinator will email you with a decision. 

If your request is approved, you will be added to a list to receive emails regarding steps you must take to sign up for both the in-person speaking and reading portions of the exam.  It is important that you read all of these emails and register and sign up for your exams within all of the stated deadlines, otherwise you will not be able to sit for the exams that semester.



  • Fall Semester
  • Late August/Early September: Within the first two weeks of the semester (second Friday) submit Language Exam Request to request to be eligible to take an exam (online self-administered diagnostic examination must be taken in advance of submitting this request, and the results must be included as part of the documentation with your request)
  • Early September: Pre-registration for the Fall semester language proficiency exams 
  • Late October - early November: Fall semester language proficiency exams
  • Spring Semester
  • Mid to Late January - Within the first two weeks of the semester (second Friday) submit Language Exam Request to request to be eligible to take an exam (online self-administered diagnostic examination must be taken in advance of submitting this request, and the results must be included as part of the documentation with your request)
  • Early February: Pre-registration for the Spring semester language proficiency exams 
  • Late March - early April: Spring semester language proficiency exams
  • NOTE: UG students approved to take the exams will receive via email the pre-registration announcement for the language proficiency exams 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





Intermediate High

Intermediate High


Intermediate High

Intermediate High



Intermediate High



Intermediate High


Intermediate High

Intermediate High



Intermediate High


Intermediate High

Intermediate High


Intermediate High

Intermediate High


Intermediate High

Intermediate High



Intermediate High


Intermediate High

Intermediate High



Intermediate High

Turkish Intermediate High Intermediate High


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

Undergraduate students must complete the online self-administered diagnostic examination as part of their Language Exam Request in order to request to be eligible to take the Elliott School coordinated language proficiency exams.  You will need to submit a screen shot of your exam results with your request.

You may take the online diagnostic examination in more than one language. If you would like to retake the diagnostic examination in the same language, one should not do so unless an interval of at least two months has passed. These diagnostic examinations provide only a rough estimate of one’s language proficiency. Therefore, a certain score is no guarantee that one will pass the proctored language proficiency exam at the required level.

Diagnostic Examinations


Other Options to Satisfy the Language Proficiency Requirement

For languages not offered at GW, you may also show proficiency through formal reading and speaking language examinations with a language testing institute or another college or University.  You must submit a Language Exam Request for this option as well, and cost assistance is available through the Elliott School (for the first attempt only, and only for language exams not offered by the Elliott School). 

A list of private companies below is not exhaustive and you can research other options.  Regardless, the testing organization must be able to provide the Elliott School with an ACTFL rating or an ACTFL equivalence score.  

Some common private testing companies used in the past are below:

Once you have chosen a company (or professor at another college/university) to work with, you will need to submit a Language Exam Request, which should include the name of the company or institution, the name of the person you have been working with, as well as their contact information. (If you work with a professor at another institution, you must include the professor’s CV with your request.)   

The Elliott School language coordinator will inform you of the decision of the request via email.  If the request is approved, the coordinator will also share the minimum scores required for the speaking and reading exams in the language for which you are seeking testing, and will then reach out to your contact directly to discuss the testing scale and where the scores should be sent (directly to the language coordinator).

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 pick the testing organization a student tests through if a student accepts language exam cost assistance.

Important things to note regarding this option:

  1. You must take and pass both a reading and speaking exam in order to show proficiency.
  2. Official results must be sent directly to [email protected] or [email protected] from the testing company.
  3. Your Language Exam Request must be submitted and approved before the exams are taken; otherwise, the Elliott School will not accept the results. 
  4. This option is for non-GW languages only, unless there are extenuating circumstances - these cases should be discussed with your advisor before submitting the Language Exam Request. 
  5. 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.
  6. The Elliott School reserves the right to pick the testing organization a student tests through if a student accepts language exam cost assistance.


Language Resources

Language Lunch Spring 2023


Language Lunch

Students looking to improve their language proficiency are encouraged to attend the Language Lunches during the academic year. These will be held virtually on Mondays from 12:00-1:00 p.m. and in person 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 check out the Spring 2024 schedule.

Language Tutoring

In addition, GW offers language tutoring through the language departments.  More information about these options can be found in a centralized location on the Language Center's website.

English for Academic Purposes

The English for Academic Purposes (EAP) Program is an academic department within the Columbian College of Arts & Sciences.

EAP's mission is to socialize international students who speak English as a second or additional language into our academic discourse community by helping them build an academic skill set that will benefit them in their GW coursework and professional career.  To learn more about this department, course offerings and other resources, please visit the English for Academic Purposes website.