What is the language requirement and why do some countries have one?

By Lora King
Nov. 1, 2017

The Peace Corps’ language training is known as being one of the more thorough for language acquisition. 

Whether you are learning Chichewa or Ukrainian, Peace Corps programs worldwide expect their Volunteers to learn and work in a local language.

If you take a look at our Volunteer openings, you may notice we have language requirements listed on all our openings. Some programs don’t require any language skills, but others may ask for previous Spanish, French or romance language experience to be invited.

Why?

For some countries, already having some background in the primary language is important to the success of their Volunteers as a foundation to build and grow on throughout their service.

For example, Portuguese is the official language of Mozambique and is the most widely spoken second language. Volunteers primarily work in Portuguese and must learn it before any local languages. Therefore, Spanish experience is required for Volunteers to have a foundation for learning Portuguese in order to have a successful service. 

Other countries, like Peru, have Spanish as the official and most widely spoken language. During pre-service training in Peru,  some technical trainings and hands-on practical experience will be fully conducted in Spanish. Without Spanish, Volunteers can fall behind in their training or find they are unable to complete work in their community.

How do I show that I have proficiency in a language?

If you’re interested in a program that has a language requirement, you will be asked to show you meet this need.

First, on the application: List the specific language you have experience in. If you studied it in college within the past six years, you will be asked to upload your transcripts. And if you have no formal education experience, you will have space to write additional details. (Pro tip: be as specific as possible when detailing that experience!)

You can still be considered for the program if you are proficient in the language yet don’t have formal experience, but expect your placement officer to ask you to take a CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) exam before you can be invited.

Second, the invitation is not the end of the road for language! Remember, you will be living and working in that language for 27 months. Some countries may conduct an interview before you depart for service to assess your level and determine what classes you may need during training. Also, all Peace Corps countries will require you to meet a specific language benchmark in order to swear in as a Volunteer.

The biggest piece of advice is to keep working on that language, especially on speaking it. Enrolling in a class, having an individual or small group tutor or having informal conversations are all good ways to improve your spoken language skills.

What about other languages?

If you don’t have a background in Spanish, French or other romance languages, there are plenty of options for you as well! The Peace Corps has many countries around the world that have no language requirement, but will teach one (or one of several!) local languages to Volunteers to use during their Peace Corps service.

As Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” 

The Peace Corps wants you to succeed in that. 

Ready to start your Peace Corps journey? Connect with a recruiter today.

Lora King

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