English language proficiency for J scholars
The Department of State (DOS) requires J program sponsors to document sufficient English proficiency prior to providing sponsorship in the J-1 classification. The J-1 program has both a cultural and educational component. Therefore, we must insure that our scholars can not only carry-out their research and/or teaching objectives at BU, but that they can also get along day to day outside of their BU appointment – engaging with Americans and immersing themselves in the U.S., New England, Boston and BU culture to fulfill the cultural component of the J-1 program.
While the J-1 Supplement Form outlines possible options for making this determination, sponsoring departments may find this additional guidance on documenting English proficiency helpful.
Your prospective scholar may already have documentation available, so be sure to check with them to see if any of the following options apply:
- First/native language is English
- Completed the equivalent of a 4-year degree from a college/university where the curriculum is taught in English
- Standardized English language exam (TOEFL, iBT, IELTS, etc.) – note that these are generally valid for two years
- Certification of English proficiency from an English language school.
If your prospective scholar cannot meet the English proficiency requirements using one of the four options above, you can recommend that they take a standardized English language exam or consider conducting an interview to assess their proficiency.
Determining English proficiency via an interview
The Boston University Center for English and Orientation Programs (CELOP) created an interview protocol and rubric to assist BU host departments who are looking for options to comply with the English language proficiency requirement for J-1 exchange visitors. It provides a framework for interviewing prospective scholars to assess their English for the purpose of taking on teaching or research positions at BU. The entire interview takes about 10 minutes and consists of three stages of questions – moving from simple questions on familiar topics to a more detailed discussion that requires more linguistic complexity. Each section has a list of suggested questions and a rubric is provided so that several aspects of language can be evaluated and an objective determination can be made.
In addition, CELOP has graciously provided sample videos, with subjects who have varying degrees of English proficiency for you to review. Please contact the ISSO directly if you would like access to these videos.
Once you conduct the interview, you can indicate on the J-1 Supplement form that you evaluated the English proficiency using the BU interview protocol and matrix and provide us with the total score.
If you do not feel that your prospective scholar has demonstrated sufficient proficiency or if you feel that you cannot make an objective determination, you will need to make some decisions. You can liken this requirement to standardized language tests for degree students – if they don’t have sufficient English, they are not admitted to the program.
It is important to note that the English proficiency requirement goes beyond their intended research or teaching role at BU. While it may be possible for the prospective scholar to succeed in a research role without English proficiency because everyone on that particular research project speaks a common language, this would not meet the pre-screening requirements for English proficiency. However, keep in mind that the level of English proficiency may vary depending on the nature and length of the intended academic activity at BU. For example, a non-compensated Visiting Researcher coming to BU for a one month collaboration with a limited number of BU faculty may not need the same level of English proficiency as a lecturer teaching classes to students and/or a Postdoctoral Associate on a three-year appointment.
If your prospective scholar cannot demonstrate adequate English language ability, you may need to reconsider the appointment at BU and/or make other decisions or recommendations. Can you consider delaying the appointment until they can present other documentation to verify English proficiency? Can you recommend that they take a standardized English test or enroll in an ESL program in their home country? Can you rescind the offer and look for another candidate with more English proficiency? We certainly understand that this may not be an easy call – but, if your scholar arrives and cannot speak English, this may ultimately effect his or her immigration status in the U.S. Please contact us if you have any questions.