Just to fulfill my requirements for graduation, I had to pay over $200 to show I was proficient in a language I’ve been speaking my entire life.
Georgetown University has a foreign language proficiency graduation requirement for students in the College, Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS), and programs in the McDonough School of Business (MSB). One of the Georgetown Core Curriculum Learning Goals is to “respect difference,” an ideal not reflected in the university’s foreign language proficiency policies.
The university offers free proficiency tests for 19 languages but refers students proficient in languages not offered to an external testing agency called Language Testing International. Students are expected to pay a fee to take the ACTFL Written and Oral Proficiency tests. The university justifies this fee by stating that a “formal certification” is provided to students who pass the proficiency test. However, many students are just interested in finishing the graduation requirement and do not need formal certification for foreign language proficiency.
The cost distinction between proficiency tests for languages offered at the university and those administered externally imposes an unfair burden on certain students. The university must resolve this issue by paying for the proficiency tests for languages it does not offer.
The administration must understand that by only providing proficiency tests for languages from a select few regions of the world, it disregards the needs of a diverse student population. It pressures students to select from a limited range of languages, while making it inaccessible for certain students to test out with their native language in case it is not offered by the university. Ensuring that the university has free proficiency tests for all students, regardless of the languages they speak, is an important step toward acknowledging campus diversity.
As a first-year student, I passed my proficiency exam in Hindi given that I grew up in India, and am a native speaker who has spoken and written the language my entire life. When I approached my advisory dean about testing out of the language requirement with Hindi, they mentioned that Georgetown did not have a proficiency test for Hindi, and I would have to take the ACTFL Written and Oral Proficiency Test for $273, an exorbitant and appalling cost for any student to prove proficiency in a language they had grown up speaking.
For students in the College and the MSB’s international business major, the graduation requirement is proficiency at the intermediate level, while students in the SFS, including those pursuing the BSBGA dual degree with the MSB, are required to reach intermediate high to advanced mid-level proficiency. The ability to test out of the foreign language requirement early allows students to take more courses toward their major or even add another major or minor.
Georgetown attaches a clause at the end of its foreign language proficiency test policy to make financial accommodations for students. In an introduction to registration Canvas course, the university mentions that students “should contact their financial aid counselor” if the exam presents financial difficulties.
However, for many students, this clause is self-defeating. It doesn’t take into account those international students and U.S. citizens who are ineligible for financial aid, and therefore do not have financial aid counselors. In many cases, international students qualify for little or no financial aid because of ineligibility to access federal aid exclusively provided to U.S. citizens.
While I understand that the university does not have the capacity to provide in-house proficiency tests for over 7,000 languages, I urge the administration to sponsor external proficiency tests for those students who wish to take them in a language not currently offered by the university. Guaranteeing equitable access to these exams would take Georgetown one step closer to being a genuine “community in diversity” where every student is able to fulfill the language requirement with any language of their choice at no cost.
Anaya Mehta is a sophomore in the College.