Learn World Languages

“Different languages protect and nourish the growth of different cultures, where different pathways of human knowledge can be discovered. They certainly make life richer for those who know more than one of them.”
(Nicholas Ostler, Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World)

“Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages.” (Dave Barry)

World Languages at Macalester

Today, when the words of others from halfway around the globe can reach us in a heartbeat, only those who know other languages can take full advantage of the vast opportunities—for learning, collaborating, improving the lives of others—made possible by new communication technologies.

A command of another language gives you access to another culture from the inside out, which increases cross-cultural competence and enhances job prospects in an increasingly interconnected world. Several of the languages taught at Macalester College have been classified by the U. S. government as strategically important, which translates into scholarships to support their study and career opportunities after graduation.

Learning a language has many other bonuses: it sharpens your cognitive skills, gives you a better understanding of your native language and culture, and improves your ability to analyze and think critically. Language study is your chance to try on a new identity, to see the world through a different set of eyes, and to enrich your appreciation of human diversity.

At Macalester we take seriously the importance of being multilingual. We offer eleven different languages, at all levels. This allows globally-aware students to become meaningfully proficient and able to use their newly acquired languages in study, work, and travel.

Macalester requires its graduates to demonstrate four semesters' worth of proficiency in a language other than English. However, many students exceed that minimum, recognizing the intellectual, intercultural, and practical benefits of being multilingual.

Choosing Languages

Students choose which language – or languages – to study for many different reasons:

  • Some want to learn a language spoken in a region of the world where they might like to work or study
  • Some are drawn to the language of a region whose history, politics, economy, or geography they find fascinating
  • Others are passionate about the literature or films of a particular culture and want to learn more about the context in which these works were created
  • Some students hope to reach out to members of their own communities whose primary language is not English

Many students begin a new language when they arrive at Macalester; others choose to continue with a language that they took in high school. Students who want assistance in deciding which languages to pursue should do the following:

  • Explore these links for the languages Macalester offers (Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Ancient Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish) to get a brief description and guidance on placement.
  • Visit the website of the department which offers the language to learn where it is spoken, what fields of study or work it is associated with, and what the future holds for graduates who are proficient in its use.
  • During Orientation you may consult with faculty who teach these languages at our World Languages Fair (Friday, August 29). Adjustments to your fall schedule will be possible during Orientation if you discover you’d like to switch to a new language or take more than one.

Second Language Proficiency Requirement

In order to graduate from Macalester all students must demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English equivalent to four semesters worth of college level instruction in that language. This level of proficiency enables students to meaningfully engage both the language itself as well as the cultures connected to it. Most students meet this requirement by completing Intermediate II in their chosen language at Macalester. Students who receive college credit for Intermediate II through a qualifying score on the AP exam, or take Intermediate II at another college and receive transfer credit, or earn a qualifying score on the SAT II exam (620 with listening or 700 without listening) will have this requirement marked as met once we receive the official scores or transcripts.

Students whose native language is not English should submit appropriate documentation to the Academic Programs Office to have their proficiency in reading, writing, listening and speaking in more than one language verified. The most common means of demonstrating proficiency is a transcript from high school that indicates that the language of instruction in the student’s secondary school was a language other than English or that the student took courses in his or her native language as well as in English. Students who do not have such documentation should contact the Academic Programs Office once on campus to discuss other options for demonstrating multilingual proficiency.

Students who have met our four semester proficiency requirement are welcome to take advanced level courses in that language or to pursue a new language at the appropriate level based on their preparation.

Language Placement

Students who have previously studied another language have several options for determining placement. Those who have taken a qualifying exam (i.e. SAT, AP, IB) may submit test scores to determine where in the language sequence they should begin.

Students who have not taken these exams, but will continue studying the language they pursued in high school, should place themselves in the course they feel is appropriate given their experience, course work, ability and the guidelines provided in the departmental section of this guide.

Students continuing in the study of French, German or Spanish are required to take an on-line placement test, offered through a program called “WebCape” at Brigham Young University. The test is offered free of charge and will help students decide which course to take.

Students who have studied Japanese or Chinese in high school are invited to take a placement test during orientation to confirm which course is most appropriate. The placement test will be on Friday, August 29, 8:30 a.m.

Instructions for taking the WebCape exam are as follows:

  1. On the web, go to http://webcape.byuhtrsc.org?acct=macalester.
  2. Enter the password: learninglanguages14 (all lower case)
  3. Select the appropriate language.
  4. Follow the instructions on screen. (For your ID number, use your student ID number, if known. If not, use 5551.)

The test takes approximately 15-20 minutes. At the end of the test you will be taken back to the main screen where it will show your score. Please refer to the tables below to determine which language course to register for INSTEAD OF the course suggested on the screen at the end of the test.

The purpose of this test is to help you decide what level of language course to register for with a degree of confidence that you will complete the course successfully. Accordingly, we require that you take this test closed-book, with no assistance from others. The tables below provide you with guidance in interpreting the results of the test, by language. Find the range of scores that contains the score you received in the left-hand column and go across the row to the middle column, which lists the appropriate course to register for.


WebCape ScoreCourse #SAT II Scaled Score
0-300 101 200-400
301-369 102 410-470
370-459 203 480-580
460-550 204 590-610
Over 550 consult department 620+



WebCape ScoreCourse #SAT II Scaled Score
0-300 101 or 110 200-400
301-400 102 or 110 410-470
401-475 203 480-580
476-550 204* 590-610
Over 550 consult department 620+

*For German placement, you must visit the department office during orientation to confirm your placement in German 204.



WebCape ScoreCourse #SAT II Scaled Score
0-300 101 200-400
301-385 102 410-470
386-450 203 480-570
451-550 204 580-610
Over 550 consult department 620+