Language is the way that members of a culture organize and encode their thoughts, allowing them to communicate with each other. Moreover, language shapes one’s relationship with other people, and different languages will shape that relationship differently.

At Carleton we think that a liberally educated student should understand the way language is embedded within cultural practices and worldviews. To this end, we expect students to cross linguistic borders, experiencing another language “from the inside.” In addition to the primary benefits a degree of competency in a language can offer (including basic communication, the ability to read foreign texts, and interaction with those of a different culture), the study of a foreign language provides students with a fuller understanding of the role played by their own native tongue. Also, crucially, it requires each student to experience the challenges of dealing with other cultures and peoples on their own terms. Language learning at Carleton, therefore, advances and supports the stated values and goals of the College’s Mission Statement.

The Policy

Carleton’s language requirement policy aims to assure that students will acquire a usable level of competence in a second language. This competence is demonstrated either (a) through successful completion of a fourth-level language course (fifth-level in Arabic, Chinese or Japanese) or (b) through acceptable performance on a standardized or departmentally designed examination.

Fluent speakers of second languages may ask to be tested for fulfillment of the requirement or, in the case of languages not offered at Carleton, may ask that testing be arranged. Students whose native language is other than English may fulfill this requirement by demonstrating competence in their native language, as well as English.


Students who complete language courses equivalent to courses 101 through 204 (205 in Arabic/Chinese/Japanese) at domestic post-secondary institutions after being enrolled at Carleton may take the appropriate placement or proficiency examinations to gain advanced standing or exemption. Credit toward the degree is typically not awarded, however.

Beyond the Requirement

Language study at Carleton aims at far more than the satisfaction of the requirement. Students are encouraged to increase their proficiency through advanced courses and study abroad and to apply their language skills in their academic work in other areas. With this foundation, language will enrich their studies at Carleton and enable graduates to become contributing members of the multi-cultural world.