Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Being lingual -- and speaking English

You've heard us say it before, and it bears repeating: languages are important at SAIS.

They are important partly because they help make up the diversity that sets SAIS apart. We are proud of the international character of our student body, faculty and alumni. Our alumni come from 110 different countries and our current students from 34: that's a lot of languages.

We teach a great many languages because mastery of a language can open a door onto a culture, a society, a political system, in short a foreign realm. It's not absolutely essential to speak many languages to have an impact on the world, but learning another language will surely help you better understand the workings of the world and of other societies.

We've posted on languages before. Our most loyal readers will remember that we teach 8 languages at SAIS Bologna and 16 at SAIS Washington. Every student must pass a proficiency exam in a foreign language to graduate.

Still, it's worth remembering that the language of instruction is English. Whether in Bologna or Washington, you'll hear a variety of languages spoken in the corridors, the courtyards, Giulio's caffè or on Embassy Row. But the courses, aside from the non-English language classes, are conducted in English.

It's important that a candidate be proficient in English to thrive in the demanding academic environment. Fluency is no guarantee that one will excel, but a student who struggles to read, write or listen in English will surely have difficulty making the most of the experience.

As our candidates know, we require a certain proficiency in English for entrance to SAIS. Non-native speakers must pass an English proficiency exam to graduate. Below, Rebecca Hopkins, who heads the English  language program at SAIS Bologna, discusses the importance of mastering English at SAIS.

If anyone has any questions about languages at SAIS, you know how to reach us. We'll do our best to answer your questions -- although we can't promise we'll be able to speak your language.

Nelson Graves