Policies Governing the Foreign Language Requirement

  • The Foreign Language Requirement is normally fulfilled by completing the fourth-semester level course in a particular language or by demonstrating equivalent competency through language placement. Policies may vary by language program; students with questions should contact the relevant department.
  • Foreign Language Requirement courses may not be used to fulfill any other General Education Requirement.
  • Pre-college credit, transfer credit, credit away and credit earned studying abroad may be counted toward the Foreign Language Requirement only when departments award credit using the number of a Penn course approved for the Foreign Language Requirement.
  • All courses taken to satisfy the Foreign Language Requirement must be taken for a letter grade, not pass/fail. The final course in the competency sequence must be completed with a minimum grade of C- in order to fulfill the Foreign Language Requirement.

If not yet completed, students should plan to fulfill the Language Requirement as soon as possible. Language department websites provide information about placement exams offered in September for students who plan to continue with a previously studied language and/or receive credit for language courses taken at their previous institution.

Language Requirement Substitution

Students who believe that they have a documented disability that precludes learning a foreign language should contact the Student Disabilities Services Office (SDS). A member of their professional staff will explain the assessment procedure, which requires up-to-date neuropsychological testing.

If a student’s disability is verified by SDS, the student should call 215.898.6341 and make an appointment to meet with Dr. Niel McDowell in the College Office to confirm approval of the substitution and to select appropriate substitution courses. The number of courses each student will require will depend upon the number of foreign language classes the student has completed before applying for the substitution. A full substitution will require four substitute courses.

Substitution courses are selected as follows: The student must choose one geographical area in the world where English is not the primary language and take at least one course in cinema or literature in translation from that country or region. The remaining courses will focus on the culture or literature of that same geographical area. If no foreign language course has been taken at Penn, the student must also take one class in linguistics or anthropology of language. All classes for the language substitution must be approved in advance by Dr. McDowell.

Courses used as part of the Language Requirement substitution may not also be used to fulfill any major requirement, nor to fulfill any part of the Sector Requirement.