New language requirements enacted starting with Class of 2026

The change, which requires students to take at least one language course at the College, reflects a years-long effort to modernize how students study language and cultural difference.

by Emily Fagell | 9/15/22 5:05am

by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Beginning with the Class of 2026, all undergraduate students will be required to take at least one course offered by Dartmouth to fulfill the language requirement, according to an email sent to first-year students prior to matriculation. Previously, students were able to receive an exemption from the language requirement by demonstrating their fluency in a foreign language through a placement test or credit.

According to classics department chair Margaret Graver, the decision aims to modernize the College’s curriculums, match peer institutions — many of whom have more robust language requirements — and better reflect the student and cultural diversity of Dartmouth’s campus. She added that faculty began considering the change “six or seven” years ago, but the decision was not finalized until the spring of 2021.

“[The former language requirement] was put in place when Dartmouth looked really different from how it looks now,” Graver said. “Virtually everybody who came here went to a short list of high schools, all in New England, all of which had a curriculum where you had a certain number of languages and a certain number of years of language that you took if you were a good student … It just doesn’t fit the modern world.”

According to the email sent to the Class of 2026, students can fulfill the requirement in various ways, depending on their prior experience with a language. Students with little or no foreign language proficiency must take courses through the “03 level,” while more advanced students — those who have completed curriculums through the 03 level — can take a more advanced course within that language or study a new language through the 02 level. Options include Arabic, Ancient Greek, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese, according to the email.

Native speakers of non-English languages can either take a new language through the 02 level or can enroll in an “Language Requirement for Proficient Speakers” course. These courses, which are “mostly taught in English,” do not specifically focus on learning a language, but rather explore structural features of language and linguistic diversity, according to the email. According to Graver, the LRPs include courses in disciplines such as comparative literature, linguistics and Native American studies, among others.

“It’s getting off to a slow start obviously, but it’s going to continue to develop so that we have more options for those students,” Spanish and Portuguese department chair Israel Reyes said.

Reyes said that he was happy with the decision, explaining that he had not seen “significant change” to the language requirement in his more than 25 years at the College. Graver added that the language requirement was both the oldest and least recently revised graduation requirement at Dartmouth.

Graver also said that the revision process took many years and participants — beginning with language and language-related faculty, then the divisional councils, the Committee of Chairs and finally the general faculty. After faculty voted in support of the change, it took more than a year to implement the change into the course catalog due to administrative hurdles, she said.

Since the change was implemented this fall, Reyes said that the Spanish and Portuguese department has already seen an increased demand for courses such as SPAN 9, “Culture and Conversation.” He said he expects to see similar trends for language study abroad programs, which can also fulfill the language requirement.

“This term, we will discuss what our teaching schedule looks like, when we offer certain courses,” Reyes said. “In the future, we might decide to offer more sections of [SPAN 9] in the fall term for those entering first year students.” 

While some students recognized frustration at the change, others said the new requirement did not affect their plans of study.

“Initially I thought already … that most colleges had a language requirement, so for me it wasn’t a big change to my plans,” Camry Gach ’26 said. “I love learning new languages, and I was planning on doing something with a language — whether it was continuing my pursuits in getting better at Spanish or just learning a completely different language.” 

Although Rachel Hall ’26 — who placed into SPAN 9 — also said she likely would have taken a language course anyway, she said she thinks her opinion is “probably not true for most students.”

“My exchange trip [in high school] to Argentina was one of the best experiences of my life, so I definitely think learning a language is worth it,” she said. “[But] I have one friend on our floor who knows six languages and he still has to take a language requirement class — and he’s like, ‘This is kind of dumb.’”

Ishita Singh ’26, a native speaker of Hindi who also wants to become fluent in Spanish, said she hopes Dartmouth will add more languages to its course offerings in the future.

“As a native speaker of a language not taught here, I just hope there [are] more languages coming in the future — not necessarily Hindi, which is what I speak, but just languages from different regions,” Singh said. “For example, we have [Classical languages taught] which aren’t necessarily spoken. That’s interesting for sure, but also [learning] languages from regions where there isn’t as much representation would be really cool.”