Choosing a World Language at St. Olaf

St. Olaf offers study in nine different world languages: Chinese, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Latin, Norwegian, Russian, and Spanish.

BEFORE arriving on campus, students with formal prior experience in Chinese, French, German, Norwegian and Spanish must take online placement exams that are available during the summer.

Placement processes for other languages will be given by appointment in each individual department this fall.

It may be possible for some students to fulfill the Foreign Language (FOL) general education requirement by showing proof of language proficiency in a non-St. Olaf language through the submission of primary and secondary school transcripts from schools where the language of instruction was not English. If the requirement is fulfilled by submission of a transcript, the student is not required to take a language course at St. Olaf. St. Olaf will accept clear copies (pdf scans, photos, etc.) of the transcripts. Transcripts can be submitted in person to the Office of the Registrar, or electronically to  Questions can be directed to Paula Stowe, Registrar’s Office.

When choosing a language to study, consider the following questions and discuss them with your advisor:

  • What language(s) have I already studied? Where (high school, language village, camp, travel, community ed, etc.).  What are my placement test results?
    NOTE: It is not required that students continue in the language(s) in which they take a placement test.
  • How far along am I (barely started, intermediate, fluent, etc.  How strong are my skills (listening, reading, speaking, writing, grammar)?
  • Do I enjoy this language?
  • Do I want to continue to a higher level of proficiency in this language?
  • Do I want to try something new in college?
  • Do I want to acquire an additional world language in college, besides what I have already studied in high school?
  • What is my family background? Do I want to study one of my heritage languages?
  • Does anyone in my family speak another language and would I like to learn that language too?
  • Have I traveled abroad or met someone from another country or otherwise become interested in learning the language and culture of a particular country?
  • Is there some area of the world I would like to visit, and if so, should I study the language spoken there in preparation for travel?
  • What international study programs am I considering? What language will I need for study abroad?
  • Would I like to learn a less commonly taught language, thus gaining an unusual skill that will make me stand out in a crowd?  (Chinese, Japanese, Norwegian, Russian, or a classical language like Latin or Greek)
  • Am I interested in international career?  If so, might I consider Chinese, Japanese, or Russian?
  • Am I fascinated by the art, literature, culture, or sport of a particular country? Should I consider studying the language of that country?
  • Am I interested in the history/culture of western civilization?
  • Am I thinking about graduate school? Medical school? Seminary? Should I investigate which language(s) are required/recommended in the area I plan to study?
  • What are my first and second choices for language study? Why have I chosen them?