International Education

World Languages

World Languages in Seattle Public Schools

The International Education Programs Office provides support to schools that offer world language and heritage language classes to students.

Languages Taught

Currently, the world languages taught in Seattle Public Schools are:

  • ASL – American Sign Language
  • Arabic
  • Chinese (Mandarin)
  • French
  • Japanese
  • Spanish

For specifics about which languages are taught at which schools, download the SPS World Languages Regional Offerings

In addition, a number of non-profit organizations, such as One World Now, offer other languages after school, including Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Russian, and Korean.

Elementary Schools

Some elementary schools may offer enrichment world language learning opportunities during the day and also offer before or after-school enrichment classes in a variety of world languages. The goal of these experiences is to develop an interest and desire to continue learning languages later in education.

Seattle currently offers Dual Language in five (5) International Elementary Schools:

  • Beacon Hill International School:  Mandarin Chinese and Spanish
  • Concord International School:  Spanish
  • Dearborn Park International School:  Mandarin Chinese and Spanish
  • John Stanford International School:  Japanese and Spanish
  • McDonald International School:  Japanese and Spanish

Middle Schools

All middle schools and most K-8 schools offer some type of World Language program. Some schools offer a 6th grade exploratory class where students have an opportunity to spend time learning about different languages. All middle schools offer one year of world language (for high school credit). Some schools offer two years of language (for high school credit), i.e. Spanish 1 in 7th grade and Spanish 2 in 8th grade. Denny, Hamilton, and Mercer International Middle Schools also offer Dual Language courses in language arts and social studies for students who participated in elementary Dual Language or are multilingual learners in Spanish, Japanese, or Mandarin Chinese.

We are currently in the process of evaluating how to strengthen the pathway from middle to high school world language programs so that students can begin a language in middle school and continue it in high school at an appropriate, challenging level. The district goal is that all middle school students have the opportunity to earn one (or more) high school world language credits. 

High Schools

All high schools offer a World Language program. Most high schools offer an option of a different languages to study. The district and State of Washington goal for students studying world language at high school is a minimum of two credits towards graduation. Many students continue on to complete three or more years. Colleges highly recommend a minimum of three world language credits. Chief Sealth International High School and Lincoln High School also offer Dual Language courses in language arts and social studies for students who participated in middle school Dual Language or are multilingual learners. These courses are offered in the target languages of Spanish at Chief Sealth and Japanese and Spanish at Lincoln.

Heritage Spanish courses, also know as Spanish for Spanish-Speakers are offered at the following middle and high schools: Jane Addams Middle School, Nathan Hale High School, and Garfield High School. We are currently planning to increase these offerings at other middle and high schools and in other languages.

With the new 2 world language credit requirement for high school graduation, we want to make sure that both middle and high schools are fully aware of the range of options for students to meet that requirement. In addition, we are hearing about many community college students who are not able to transfer to the 4-year colleges because they have not met the world language admissions requirement (2 credits of thesame world language). Let’s make sure our SPS students graduate 4-year-college ready.

Starting in Middle School

Most Seattle middle schools offer one year of high school language across two years in middle school (e.g., Spanish 1A all year in 7th grade and Spanish 1B all year in 8th grade). These students can request to receive 1 high school credit once they arrive in high school by submitting theCredit and Grade Addition to High School Transcript Application Form to their high school counselor. The middle school course codes (“SWL”) are transformed into high school course codes (“HWL”), and, of course, the middle school grades are also included on the transcript.

Some Seattle middle schools offer two years of high school language across three years in middle school (e.g., Spanish 1A all year in 6h grade, Spanish 1B all year in 7h grade, and Spanish 2A/2B in 8th grade). These students can request to receive 2 high school credits once they arrive in high school by submitting theCredit and Grade Addition to High School Transcript Application Form to their high school counselor. (We are encouraging middle schools to consider this option, if they can, since it will give the students more flexibility for meeting requirements in high school and a better chance of taking AP or IB language courses and qualifying for the State Seal of Biliteracy.)

  • Students who qualify for English Language Learner services or other students who have learned a language outside of school can participate in World Language Credit testing in spring of 8th grade and qualify for 1-4 high school Competency-Based Credits . A number of middle schools have started testing 8th grade students in the spring. The test results are shared with the high school they attend in the fall so that the high school credits can be added to their transcript. 
  • If a student studied a language in middle school but got a low grade, the student could do World Language Credit testing when they arrive in high school. If they qualify for credits, the credits are Pass (no grade). That would be better than posting a low grade on their high school transcript. If they can’t earn credits through testing, then they should consider taking level 1 again in high school or trying out a new language.
  • Some students who have completed two years of middle school language may feel that they could place higher than level 2 in high school. Those students can take the Avant Assessment PLACE test to see if they are recommended for placement into level 3 or 4 in high school. We have already piloted this process successfully for three years at Garfield. If high schools would like to offer incoming 9th graders the opportunity to take the PLACE test, it could help you reduce the number of spots needed in level 2 language classes and increase enrollment in upper level classes (levels 3, 4, AP/IB). We could arrange testing at the end of August so you have the information to make adjustments in schedules in September, as needed.

On to High School

  • In high school, counselors should avoid waiting to place 9th and 10th graders in world language classes. It is best for them to start as soon as possible so that they can take as many years as possible in sequence. The older you are, the harder it is to experience learning a new language for the first time. In addition, if students wait until 11th grade and then go to Running Start, we lose their enrollment in our high school world language classes. That means we have many world language teachers on partial FTEs. That makes it impossible for us to sustain programs and keep good teachers in our district.
  • For School Planning: While student choice is important, young students often make arbitrary choices based on inadequate information (that language is easy, my friends are studying this language). If you have capacity to offer more spots in a language (for example, French or Latin or Japanese or Chinese), please encourage students to take those languages rather than continuing to add more spots in Spanish. There is a shortage of Spanish teachers nationally. We don’t want your students to have to be taught by long-term subs if you cannot fill positions.

Questions? Contact: Dr. Thad Williams, International Education Administrator,

World Language Standards and Learning Targets

Seattle Schools aligns curriculum to the Washington State World Languages K-12 Learning Standards (2015), which are aligned with the national World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages available for download on the ACTFL World-Readiness Standards for Language Learning page.

World Language Course Outcomes by level were developed by a team of World Language teachers in Seattle working with a national consultant, Donna Clementi, in 2010. They were updated in August 2015 to match the revised World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages and Washington’s revised World Language Learning Standards.

The targets for high school world language seat-time courses were set by the World Language teachers in 2010 based on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines:


  1. Level 1 World Language Course  Novice Low to Novice Mid
  2. Level 2 World Language Course  Novice Mid to Novice High
  3. Level 3 World Language Course  Novice High to Intermediate Low
  4. Level 4 World Language Course  Intermediate Low to Intermediate Mid
  5. Level 5 World Language Course Intermediate Mid to Pre-Advanced

These proficiency targets may be used as a guide to assist schools in proper placement of students coming from middle school to high school after some years of language study K-8. For example, a student demonstrating overall Novice High proficiency in Spanish (the target for a Level 2 World Language Course) could probably do well in a Level 3 course in high school.

The teachers also developed Example Units aligned to these levels in ASL, Chinese (Mandarin), French, Japanese, Latin, and Spanish.

World Language Credit Testing

In spring 2011, Seattle Public Schools adopted the state’s model policy and procedurefor assessing language proficiency and granting competency-based credits for World Languages. Students who can speak, read, and write a language other than English may be able to earn from 1-4 high school world language credits by completing state-approved language proficiency assessments. These credits can help them meet high school graduation requirements and 4-year college admissions requirements for world (foreign) languages.

Learn more at SPS International Education > World Language Credit Testing.

Seal of Biliteracy

High school seniors who meet all state and district graduation requirements may earn the Seal of Biliteracy by attaining a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in one or more world languages in addition to English.

Learn more at SPS International Education > Seal of Biliteracy.

Alternative and Online Learning

Students and families may be seeking alternative pathways for studying a world language for a variety of reasons, including lack of space in current world language courses at the student’s high school, interest in studying a language not offered at the high school, need for flexibility in the student’s school schedule, and others. The State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction provides a Guide to Online Learning through the new Alternative Learning Department

Currently, Seattle Public Schools is not providing support for individual students to complete courses available through the OSPI Online Learning Course Catalogs. Families who would like to can register and pay for these courses on their own. If the students are seeking high school credit for such a course, they need to complete the Equivalency Course of Study Proposal form and obtain approval prior to registering for or beginning the course. The Equivalency Course of Study Proposal form can be requested from the school counselor and is used for online, Summer Running Start Courses, and college courses outside of school. We ask school administrators (most often the principal) to provide this approval given their understanding of their students and the connection between the particular request and the school’s course offerings.

Note that any courses that are approved through the Equivalency Course of Study Proposal appear on the transcript as Out of District (OOD) credits with a generic course title, such as “World Language.” The high school transcript would not indicate which language or which level was completed. As an alternative, students who take out of district courses may prefer to complete Competency-Based World Language Credit Testing in our district, because these credits are entered on the high school transcript as course titles by language and level, and are more informative to colleges (or employers) looking at the student transcript. World Language Credit testing can also qualify a student for the Seal of Biliteracy – something that OOD or seat-time courses cannot do. Students who plan to earn credits through World Language Credit Testing do not need to seek prior approval for any learning experiences outside of school that help them develop language skills and demonstrate that proficiency to qualify for credits.