Carnegie Mellon University

Who Needs to have a Language Certification

Both university policy and PA law require that all nonnative English speaking students, undergraduate as well as graduate, have their language skills assessed before working as teaching assistants who meet with students.

Commonly Asked Questions About Language Certification

Anyone whose native language/ mother tongue is not English, regardless of citizenship or visa status. This can include:
  • Newly arrived international students
  • Students who attended all or part of high school or college in the US
  • Students who attended English speaking schools in another country
  • Students who are nonnative speakers but live in an English speaking country, e.g., a Canadian student who is a native English speaker does not need this certification; a native French speaking Canadian does
  • Students who are speakers of another variety of English, e.g. from India, Singapore, Hong Kong
Yes. Any student who is not a native speaker of English needs this certification, regardless of citizenship. US residency or citizenship is not a guarantee of English proficiency.
Yes, they do. Many students in this category have strong English skills, but many do not. Using English as the primary language of instruction or coming from a country in which English is an official language is not the same thing as "native language".

Graders who work with students need to have the ITA certification.

Department defines "grading" in many ways: different skill sets are required for

  • quantitative grading only with no student contact 
  • grading while also meeting with students to explain and discuss grade 
  • grading that requires the ability to communicate effectively in written English, e.g., grading lab reports or journals, essays, responding to discussion boards, writing test questions.

    Use the chart below to determine what type of assessment would be appropriate for a specific grading job. However, be aware that the TOEFL Writing score does not give information about the ability to respond in a culturally appropriate way to students.

Type of Grading Assignment

Method to Certify Appropriate Language Skiils for Job
Grading that requires meeting with students to explain and discuss grade, answer questions, etc. Language assessment required, Restricted II minimum.
Grading that requires ability to communicate effectively in written English, e.g., grading lab reports or journals, essays, writing test questions, responding to discussion boards. Recommend minimum TOEFL Writing score of 24 along with department assessment of the necessary skill set, including ability to respond in a culturally appropriate way to students.
Quantitative grading only with no student contact TOEFL Speaking score of 18 (minimum recommended for academic work at CMU).

Students who have completed undergraduate and graduate work in this country may still have basic problems with speaking and listening skills. Even a student who has worked as a TA at another university may not have the language skills necessary to function as a TA at Carnegie Mellon University.

To insure a uniform policy, please insist that all nonnative speakers complete the language certification.