Language Proficiency

Language is the bridge across cultures

The study of modern languages and cultures has long distinguished Thunderbird from other graduate business schools. Thunderbird integrates language instruction into the overall educational experience to help students strengthen the global mindset that sets T-birds apart from other business school graduates.

To earn your degree at Thunderbird, you must reach a specified level of proficiency in a language that is not your native language. A second language is not an admissions requirement; however, proficiency in English is required for admissions.

Second-language proficiency graduation requirement for native English speakers

Second language proficiency is a graduation requirement for all students in this program. International students typically meet this requirement by entering the program with a proficiency in English (as required for admissions). You can meet this graduation requirement in several ways:

  • Enter the program already having achieved the required standard by speaking a second language. An Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) determines language level and must be taken during the first term for those choosing this option.
  • Enroll in a Thunderbird Intensive Summer Language Program Abroad and complete your 6 credits of language the summer prior to beginning your degree studies. 
  • Successfully complete six credits of Thunderbird language courses during your degree program.
  • Submit your Foreign Service Institute or Peace Corps language certificate dated within 12 months of starting a degree program at Thunderbird. The scores must be equivalent to Thunderbird’s requirement.

Thunderbird language courses

If you have not met your second-language proficiency requirement prior to starting your degree program, you may select from these language options offered at Thunderbird. Note: Not all languages taught each term.

Second-language proficiency testing for native English speakers

Second-language proficiency for native English-speaking students is tested via the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) exam. An OPI rating of intermediate high (Group 1) or intermediate low (Group 2), depending on the language, satisfies Thunderbird’s second-language proficiency graduation requirement. (Visit the LTI website for additional languages.)


Group 1 Group 2  
Dutch Arabic Polish
French Cantonese Russian
German Croatian Serbian
Indonesian Czech Slovak
Italian Hebrew Thai
Portuguese Japanese Turkish
Spanish Korean  
Swedish Mandarin  


English proficiency admissions requirement for non-native English speakers

Proficiency in English is required for admission. Applicants whose native language is not English, and who received their qualifying degree in a country where English is not the native language, are required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic exam. Thunderbird courses require that students have an excellent proficiency in reading, writing and speaking English. Waivers are not granted.

Business English Communications

Students whose TOEFL score falls below 100 - or the equivalent on the PTE or IELTS examination - will be required to take “Business English Communications” (BEC) courses. The chart below details the corresponding scores with the course requirements. Students will be awarded 3 hours of academic credit for each of the courses.

  BEC I (3 credit hours) BEC II (3 credit hours)
TOEFL score    
80-89 Required Required
90-99 Waived Required
100+ Waived Waived
IELTS or PTE scores Contact Admissions for details Contact Admissions for details

Note: Exam scores are valid for up to two years (from program start), and must be sent directly to Thunderbird from the exam administrator.

If you have any questions about Thunderbird’s English proficiency admissions requirement or second-language proficiency graduation requirement, contact Admissions at or call +1 602 978-7100 or 800 457-6966.