Wednesday, June 14, 2017

FAQ: foreign language classes

On pp. 32-33 of the First-Year Guide, you will find information about starting or continuing your foreign language study at Barnard. It is natural for new students to have questions about where to begin their studies, particularly if they already have some background in a language. Here is some additional information that may be helpful in thinking about how to estimate your level in a Barnard language department:

To fulfill the foreign language requirement at Barnard, all students must complete two semesters of language study (both in the same language) at Barnard or Columbia, regardless of previous language study or proficiency. In most language departments at Barnard and Columbia, the course sequence typically goes by the following course titles: Elementary I, Elementary II, Intermediate I, Intermediate II.  Beyond Intermediate II, there are a variety of advanced grammar, conversation, and content-based courses offered.

If you are starting a foreign language that is new to you, you should start with Elementary I. No placement exam is necessary to enroll in an Elementary I language course.

If you have a background in a foreign language and do not need to start from the basics, you may determine your placement using one of the following means:
  • For Spanish only: take the online Spanish placement test available through myBarnard this summer
  • For Hebrew only: you may use SAT II or Jerusalem Examination scores as outlined on p. 33 of the First-Year Guide. If you have not taken either of these exams or believe they are not an accurate representation of your abilities, you may take a placement test as outlined below.
  • For all other languages, take a placement test during NSOP -- the placement exam schedule will be included in the NSOP schedule.
If your language level won't be confirmed until NSOP, you can still plan this summer based on your best guess:  One way to understand the levels is:
  • Elementary I as "no comfort with the language at all," 
  • Elementary II as "somewhat comfortable with the basics of the language," 
  • Intermediate I as "fairly comfortable with the basics and somewhat comfortable with some advanced grammar and vocabulary" and
  • Intermediate II as "fairly comfortable with advanced grammar and vocabulary." 
In all probability, this index won't completely clarify the matter for you, but it may give you a bit more confidence in estimating a level for now.

If you take the placement exam during Orientation and receive a different result from the level you estimated during the summer, the language department and your adviser will work with you to find a place in an appropriate course. But students often do a good job in estimating their level in advance, so can be helpful to plan your schedule around a class at what may well be the correct level.

Note for students considering study abroad: Many study abroad programs require students to demonstrate proficiency equivalent to four semesters of college language study.  Unlike the college language requirement, this does not necessarily mean that you will have to take four semesters of language in college -- you simply have to reach the proficiency level required.  Check the Barnard Study Abroad website for specific programs and requirements, but in general, if you are beginning a language from scratch and want to study abroad in a country where that language is spoken, we recommend that you begin studying that language in your first semester

There is a lot of adding, dropping, and section changing in foreign language classes during the first week of classes, as students work with instructors to make sure they are in the class most suited for their level or move to other levels or section times. So make your best choice for now, knowing that you can  revisit the question when you get to campus and have lots of people to help you finalize your placement.