Studying Foreign Languages at Princeton

Tags: academics courses curriculum foreign language placement requirements

Professor Joao Biehl

By now you’ve heard Princeton’s informal motto, “in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.” Princeton takes both parts of that motto very seriously and makes meaningful international experiences available for all interested students. Oftentimes, these experiences entail communicating in a language other than English, and Princeton prepares you for this by offering excellent instruction in a range of languages. Many of these language you may reocognize from your high school curriculum, but some may be new to you. Studying a language can help you understand your grandparents, give yourself an edge in the professional world, or immerse yourself in a culture that fascinates you. Whatever the reason, studying a new language teaches us not only about the unfamiliar culture we’re studying, but also about our own culture and its assumptions and preconceptions; a foreign language is both a window and a mirror. 

Princeton requires all students in the AB program to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language by the time they graduate. Many BSE students choose to study a foreign language, too, and the School of Engineering is always developing new engineering-specific international opportunities. For AB students, there are multiple ways to demonstrate fluency and fulfill the AB foreign language requirement:

  • If you are starting a new language or at the beginning level, you can complete the requirement with three or four semesters of coursework, depending on the language.
  • You can provide evidence of the appropriate score on an Advanced Placement exam in the language (you’ll find information on which scores qualify you here).
  • You can take a placement exam offered by the relevant Princeton language department and “place out” by demonstrating the necessary level of spoken and written fluency. Online placement exams for many of the languages offered at Princeton will be available on our Blackboard website in June.
  • You can demonstrate native fluency through documentation of secondary schooling in a language other than English or through taking a test offered by an outside testing agency (for languages not offered at Princeton). See your Director of Studies for more information about these options.

Every AB student will have a different situation, but if you have not taken an advanced placement exam in the language you studied in high school or your score is not high enough to qualify for advanced placement credit, then you should take the placement exam in that language offered by Princeton. You can do that online over the summer (be on the lookout for reminder announcements from Dean Fowler). Placement exams for the following languages: Hebrew, Latin and Russian will be administered during Orientation. If you are fluent in a foreign language that is not taught at Princeton, see your residential college director of studies during the first week of classes to discuss how to document that fluency.

Whatever your situation, we hope that you’ll explore languages at Princeton!

Author Profile

aandres's picture
Alexis Andres, Ph.D.
Dean, Whitman College

I am beginning my seventh year at Princeton University and my second year as the dean at Whitman College. Before relocating to New Jersey, I worked as an assistant dean at the University of Virginia. I earned my M.Ed. at the University of Vermont and I earned both my BA and my Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. As an undergraduate, I was passionate about service, student leadership, and college athletics. Princeton is an exceptional place to explore your passions. Welcome!

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