CAS Language Requirement

All CAS students have to show proficiency at the fourth-semester level or higher in a language other than English. The Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature offers full course sequences in nine different languages for fulfillment of this requirement; still other courses may be found in Romance Languages, African Languages, Modern Greek, Ancient Greek, and Latin. (American Sign Language is a special case; see Q and A below.)

MLCL regularly offers courses through at least the fourth semester in all of these languages: Arabic, Chinese, German, Hebrew, Hindi-Urdu, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Russian, and Turkish.

Students who have previously studied a language outside of Boston University and wish to continue the same language at BU must take a placement exam on or before the first day of classes so that they can be placed at an appropriate level. Please contact the MLCL front office for more information at (617) 353-5032 or by e-mail.

CAS Language Requirement Q & A

Q My placement test score says I belong at the fifth-semester level or above. So have I fulfilled the language requirement already?

A No! Placement tests only advise you about proper placement; they fulfill no requirements. But if you enroll for one semester of the language at the fifth-semester level or above, you’ll satisfy the whole language requirement.

Q I already took the AP or the SAT-II in my foreign language. Does that fulfill the requirement?

A Yes, if your score met CAS requirements. An AP score at the qualifying level in Spanish, French, or Italian, a 3; in German or Latin, a 4; in Chinese or Japanese, a 5or an SAT-II score of 560 in any language fulfills the CAS requirement. Students who have taken the SAT but will be continuing in the language should still seek placement testing or placement advice from the language program head.

Q I grew up speaking a language other than English. Am I exempt from the language requirement?

A Not automatically. If your native language is not English or if you have near-native proficiency in another language, you can take a College-administered exam for bilinguals: contact Academic Advising in BSR 100 ( Passing this test will satisfy the requirement.

For all modern spoken languages, the proficiency testing includes reading, writing, and speaking; so if you can converse in a language but can’t read or write it very well, you’ll probably have to complete coursework to satisfy the requirement. (In some languages special courses are offered for students in this situation; call the department at 3-5032 or e-mail and ask to be referred to a faculty member who can advise you about your language.)

Q I want to take sign language. Why can’t I find any courses in it?

A American Sign Language at BU is offered through the Deaf Studies Program, and ASL courses are open to CAS students after the first semester of their freshman year. The four-semester course sequence is as follows:

  • SED DE 570 American Sign Language I
  • SED DE 571 American Sign Language II
  • SED DE 590 American Sign Language III
  • SED DE 591 American Sign Language IV

Course descriptions can be found on the Deaf Studies Program website. At the end the fourth course, students will have the opportunity to take a proficiency test (this is sometimes misleadingly called a test of “bilingualism,” but it actually corresponds to fourth-semester-level proficiency). You fulfill the CAS requirement by passing this test. We’ll say that again. ASL, because its classes are not taught in CAS, is an exceptional case: the fourth-semester language class does not satisfy the requirement by itself. The proficiency test does. For more information, contact the Deaf Studies Program in the School of Education.

QI feel insecure about my background in a language. My placement test tells me that I’m at a certain level, but I’d feel more comfortable taking a lower level instead. Can I?

A This is almost always a bad idea. You may feel shaky now, but languages come back to you quickly once you get into the classroom. You won’t be the only one feeling uncertain when the class starts, don’t worry — and the feeling won’t last long. Bottom line: our placement tests don’t lie.

Besides, those students who deliberately take language classes below their level are easily recognized by the way their eyes pop out with boredom by the third week of the term. Don’t disfigure yourself.

Stick with what the placement test recommends; if in spite of everything, you and your instructor should come to agree that for some reason dropping down a level is wise, you can do that soooo much more easily than you could ever move up a level.

Q Can I fulfill part of my language requirement while studying abroad?

A Yes, some BU study abroad programs offer courses at the first- and/or second-year level (some examples are Arabic in Rabat, Chinese in Shanghai, French in Grenoble, German in Dresden, or Italian in Padova). See the Study Abroad with Boston University website for details.

Q I’m in a hurry. Can I take two levels of a language simultaneously to save time?

A Say what? No!

The CAS Bulletin provides additional information on the Foreign Language Requirement of the College of Arts and Sciences.