Watson Institute at Brown University
International Relations


International Relations concentrators must demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language. The level of proficiency required is six semesters at the university level (typically through level 600) or the equivalent in a single language. This level of competency is necessary for students to make effective use of the language in communications required for conducting research in the language and for studying abroad in a country where that language is spoken.


  • Language must correspond to the regional requirement.
  • Courses used for the IR Language Requirement must be taught entirely in that language. Courses in English at these levels will not count.
  • Students must demonstrate research in the target language for their senior capstone project.
  • Language courses should be taken for a letter grade (an S says nothing about your language skills).

Earned Credit at Brown

Students complete all courses in the language sequence at Brown. This varies by department and includes accelerated tracks. Students who begin a new language at Brown will, therefore, take at least six courses (100-600). Students studying abroad may receive credit for one course per semester in the language sequence with approval of the language department and the IR Concentration Advisor. Students must complete all courses in the language sequence—i.e., skipping a course (say, from 400 to 600) is not permitted. Please refer to the respective language departments for questions, restrictions, and study abroad course transfer for the language requirement. To count for IR, all courses in the sequence must be listed on your Brown transcript.

 Note: Some language departments (e.g., French, Portuguese, and Spanish) offer intensive courses and allow advanced topics courses to be repeated for credit. Taking an intensive course reduces the number of courses needed to fulfill the IR requirement. Using Spanish as an example, one could take HISP110 (instead of HISP100 and 200) followed by 300, 400, 500, and 600 and, thus, take five courses rather than six to meet the requirement. In any case, IR requires two semesters beyond the second semester intermediate (typically 400) level. Professionally-themed language courses (Business Chinese, Spanish for the Health Profession) do not meet the IR Language Requirement.

Languages at Brown and the Requirement for IR



Arabic ARAB600
Chinese CHIN600
French FREN600
German GRMN 0600
Greek (Modern) MGRK 0600
Hebrew HEBR 0500
Hindi-Úrdu HNDI 1080 + one additional course
Italian ITAL 0600
Japanese JAPN 0600
Korean KREA 0500 + one additional course
Persian PERS 0600
Portuguese PORT 0610/0620 (2 semesters beyond 400)
Russian RUSS 0600
Spanish HISP 0600

Native Acquisition

Native speakers of a language other than English—those who were born and raised in a country where the official language or commonly spoken language is not English—are not automatically exempt for the IR Language Requirement. Many international students elect to study another language and use this third language (after their native language and English) to fulfill the IR requirement.

IR concentrators not enrolling in language study at Brown MUST present to the IR Concentration Advisor one of the following:

  • a high school transcript indicating that the language of instruction for all courses was a language other than English.
  • demonstration that in an English-language international school the main topics (history, politics, literature, etc.) were taught in a language other than English. International students are not granted exemptions if they attended international schools where English was the only language of instruction.

Note: Speaking the language at home with family is not sufficient to meet the IR Language Requirement.

Departmental Placement

Language departments have several means of determining the appropriate placement in the language sequence for students who have had prior language study. These means include:

  • Language Placement Test scores
  • AP/SAT II Exam scores
  • Transfer credit work from another US institution

 Students using a language they studied in high school fulfill the IR Language Requirement by taking a language placement exam, placing into the course sequence, and fulfilling the remaining courses in the sequence. Students in this situation place out of lower level courses and finish their IR Language Requirement with only a few courses. For example, students who place into level 500 are only required to take 500 and 600. Transfer students who have completed language courses at another university must present their transcript, syllabus, and coursework for review by the appropriate language department and are placed accordingly.

 Note: There is no such thing as “placing out” of the IR Language Requirement. Students who place above the 600 level on the placement test are required to take one higher level course of their choosing to fulfill the IR requirement. Given that language placement can affect one’s ability to study abroad and fulfill other concentration requirements, students are encouraged to take the placement test as soon as they arrive at Brown.