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All students receiving degrees from The Fletcher School must possess the ability to speak a foreign (second) language sufficiently to exchange ideas in conversation with a native speaker and the ability to read and restate into English primary materials on contemporary topics involving foreign affairs.

Foreign nationals whose native language is not English and who have received a substantial portion of their education in their native language may have English accepted as their second language. Generally, these students will have completed the TOEFL (Test of English as a Second Language) exam.

For students whose native language is English, proficiency in a foreign language is demonstrated through reading comprehension and oral examinations.

The Fletcher School routinely offers proficiency exams in the following languages:




To further help with preparation for the language exams, Fletcher students have access to Mango Languages, an online language learning resource designed to give users comprehensive conversational language and grammar skills in over 60 languages. Visit the Mango Languages website to create your login profile.

Non-Routine Foreign Languages

Subject to the approval of the Fletcher School's Committee on Student Academic Programs, degree candidates may offer languages other than the ones listed above to fulfill the foreign language proficiency requirement. In these cases, it is the student’s responsibility to notify the Registrar's Office once they are admitted of their desire to satisfy the language exams in a non-routine language so that they can work to secure an appropriate language examiner. The reading and oral non-routine language exams must be completed within 3 months of each other. If a non-routine language examiner cannot be secured, the student will be required to take the exams in another language.


Oral Exams are offered regularly throughout the academic year by designated faculty members from the language departments at Tufts University. The oral exam is a 20-30 minute conversational interchange between the student and the examiner. The Fletcher Registrar's Office maintains a list of approved oral examiners with their contact information.

Reading Comprehension Exams are offered three times each year on specific dates in September/October, February, and in late-March/early-April as listed on the Academic Calendar. Entering students are strongly encouraged to attempt the reading comprehension exam when they first arrive in September. Students entering in January are strongly encouraged to try the exam in February or April of their first semester.

Students who are unable to pass the language proficiency exams cannot be allowed to graduate. However, continuing or reinstated students may continue to take the language proficiency exams after leaving Fletcher.

Levels of Proficiency

The level of language proficiency required for all The Fletcher School degrees is the same: General professional proficiency on the reading comprehension examination and limited working proficiency on the oral exam.

  • Students who achieve the general professional proficiency level or higher on the reading comprehension exam will have satisfied the reading comprehension portion of the requirement. A score of limited working proficiency on the reading exam is not a passing score.
  • The only exception to the above is for students offering Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, or Korean where a score of limited working proficiency on the reading comprehension exam is considered a passing score.
  • Students who achieve the limited working proficiency level or higher on the oral exam will have satisfied the oral component of the foreign language requirement. A score of limited working proficiency on the oral exam is a passing score for all languages.

Students who do not meet the minimum level of proficiency required on their first attempt at either the reading comprehension exam or the oral exam will need to take that portion of the exam again. Reading comprehension exams are offered three times during each academic year. Oral exams can be re-scheduled as needed throughout the year on an individual basis.

For purposes of establishing consistent standards of language proficiency, The Fletcher School employs the definitions of reading and speaking proficiency employed by the "interagency language roundtable" (ILR) of the U.S. government. The following levels of language proficiency are provided to place in context the requirements for the Fletcher degree. A more detailed description of these proficiency levels can be found by visiting the Interagency Language Roundtable website.

Limited Working (ILR Level 2)

  • Speaking: Able to satisfy routine social demands and limited work requirements. Can handle routine work-related interactions that are limited in scope.
  • Reading: Sufficient comprehension to read simple, authentic written material in a form equivalent to usual printing or typescript on subjects within a familiar context. Note: Limited Working proficiency on the reading comprehension exam is only an option for students offering Arabic, Chinese, Japanese or Korean. Limited Working proficiency does not satisfy the reading comprehension requirement for students offering any other language.

General Professional (ILR Level 3)

  • Speaking: Able to speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on practical, social, and professional topics.
  • Reading: Able to read within a normal range of speed and with almost complete comprehension on a variety of authentic prose material on unfamiliar subjects.

Advanced Professional (ILR Level 4)

  • Speaking: Able to use the language fluently and accurately on all levels normally pertinent to professional needs.
  • Reading: Able to read fluently and accurately all styles and forms of the language pertinent to professional needs.

Functionally Native (ILR Level 5)

  • Speaking: Speaking proficiency is functionally equivalent to that of a highly articulate well-educated native speaker and reflects the cultural standards of the country where the language is natively spoken.
  • Reading: Reading proficiency is functionally equivalent to that of the well-educated native reader.
Guidelines for the Reading Comprehension Exam

The language exam guidelines (approved and implemented in April, 1990) reflect a consensus that the Fletcher foreign language reading exam should test students' abilities to read, comprehend and restate in written English primary materials on contemporary topics involving foreign affairs rather than test students' abilities to translate with precision foreign journals, newspapers, and scholarly works on international relations topics. Students should restate the text into English but their work should not be judged on the basis of exact translation, specialized vocabulary, or elegance of English expression. However, the meaning of the passage must be accurately and coherently conveyed and words should not be skipped. The ability to convey meaning accurately is more important than testing knowledge of specific vocabulary items.

Length of reading passage

Students receive a passage from a foreign journal, newspaper, or scholarly work on a current topic in international affairs. The passage will be approximately 300 words in length for students seeking limited or general proficiency and approximately 500 words in length for students seeking advanced proficiency. A single article, approximately 500 words in length, may be used for both proficiency levels. In this case, the 300-word mark will be clearly indicated on the text so that students opting for "general proficiency" will understand the end point of their exam.

Time limits

Students have one and half hours (90 minutes) for exams in the Roman alphabet languages and two hours (120 minutes) for exams in the non-Roman alphabet languages except for exams in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean where three and a half hours (210 minutes) is permitted.


Bi-lingual dictionaries (foreign language to English, e.g. Chinese to English) may be used for all language exams at the limited, general, and advanced proficiency levels. Dictionary usage is not allowed for exams targeting the functionally native proficiency level.

English Rendering of Text

The student's written paragraph by paragraph English rendering of the foreign text should be roughly equivalent in length (that is 300 words for "general proficiency" and 500 words for "advanced" proficiency) to the primary material which is read. Students must restate the foreign text into English but their work will not be judged on the basis of exact translation, specialized vocabulary, or elegance of English expression. However, the meaning of the passage must be accurately and coherently conveyed.

Functionally Native Proficiency

Functionally native proficiency will be based on a superior performance on a separate text selection. Students may only attempt a functionally native exam after they have passed at the advanced proficiency level. Interested students should speak with the Fletcher Language Coordinator.

Foreign Language Study Outside of Fletcher

Students who have concerns about their required foreign language proficiency may enroll in the Tufts University Summer School language programs or may choose to enroll in equivalent programs at other institutions.

During the academic year, MALD candidates and direct admission Ph.D. students who wish to supplement their foreign language learning may enroll, at no extra charge, in language courses at Tufts University. Credit for language study does require approval from the Committee on Student Academic Programs (CSAP) but when the language study is appropriate for the student’s academic program and/or professional goals, the Committee is generally amenable. Foreign language courses taken for credit will be included as one of the four courses students are permitted to take per term.

In order to be eligible to receive credit for language study, the following criteria must be met:

  • Foreign language instruction should be appropriate for both the student’s Fletcher academic experience and his/her professional career objectives.
  • Foreign language credit will be given for a maximum of two courses, regardless of the number of language studies the student completes.
  • Allowance of credit for foreign language study should encourage, where there is no conflict with professional demands, a multi-cultural approach to language learning.

Foreign language credit may not be applied to the one year M.A. degree requirements and may not be offered for transfer credit. However, all students, regardless of their degree program, are eligible to audit one Tufts language course per term in addition to their normal load of four courses. Audited language courses do not appear on the student’s transcript.

Although The Fletcher School values highly the role of foreign language learning in the international affairs arena, students should understand that there is, unfortunately, little time within The Fletcher School curriculum for students to acquire and/or master a new foreign language. For that reason, we strongly encourage students who are serious about learning a new language to pursue intensive study prior to matriculation.