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 for whom English is not a native language/ mother tongue 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 an English speaking high school in another country
  • Students who are speakers of another variety of English (e.g. from India, Singapore, Hong Kong)

Note: 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".

Any student who is not a native speaker of English needs this certification regardless of citizenship. US residency or citizenship is no guarantee of English proficiency. For example, a Canadian student who is a native English speaker needs this certification; a native French speaking Canadian does not.
Clearly, 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".

It depends on how a particular department defines "grading": different skill sets are required for quantitative grading only with no student contact vs. grading while also meeting with students to explain and discuss grade vs. grading that requires the ability to communicate effectively in written English (e.g., grading lab reports, journal entries, essays, responding to discussion boards, writing test questions, etc.).

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 (e.g., on email discussion boards, comments on papers, etc.).

Type of Grading Assignment

Method to Certify Appropriate Language Skiils for Job
Grading that also requires meeting with students to explain and discuss grade, answer questions, etc. Language assessment required, Restricted II minimum; if writing competency required, departments should also use assessment criteria below.
Grading that requires ability to communicate effectively in written English (e.g., grading lab reports, journal entries, essays, writing test questions, responding to discussion boards, etc.) 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, e.g., on email discussion boards, comments on papers, etc). The ITA test assesses spoken language; does not provide information about ability to communicate effectively in written English.
Quantitative grading only with no student contact TOEFL Speaking score of 18 (minimum recommended for academic work at CMU).
We have assessed students who had completed undergraduate and graduate work in this country and 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. Again, to insure a uniform policy, please insist that all nonnative speakers complete the language certification.