Is Speaking English a Requirement for U.S. Citizenship?

Updated on January 5, 2024

At a Glance

  • To become a U.S. citizen, it is expected that you learn English as it is the language of the country.
  • The English test for U.S. citizenship assesses your reading, speaking, writing, and understanding skills.
  • Exceptions to the test include age and residency requirements, as well as exemptions for disabilities.
  • Other requirements for citizenship include meeting the minimum age, continuous residency, establishing a place of residency, demonstrating good moral character, knowledge of U.S. history and government, and willingness to serve if applicable.

If you are from a country where speaking English is not a requirement, you may not have had the most stellar English when you came into the U.S. Granted, maybe you knew a thing or two – but not enough to be fluent. Still, do you have to be fluent, or can you just get your citizenship without speaking English?

Do I Need to Speak English to Get U.S. Citizenship?

Considering that you are planning to adhere to this country and become a citizen here, it’s a basic expectation that you learn the English language. After all, you can’t expect to get your citizenship and call yourself American, and not be able to say more than 2-3 words in English. Granted, there are some exceptions – but these may change from circumstance to circumstance.

What Is the English Test for U.S. Citizenship?

The English test for U.S. citizenship is the one you will have to take after you have submitted your naturalization paperwork. This test will happen during your in-person interview, and it will show the interviewer just how well you can read, speak, write, and understand the English language.

The examiner taking your interview will talk to you in the English language, paying close attention to how you answer the questions they have asked you – including the ones concerning your application. These questions may apply to interviews for your EAD, which is why it won’t hurt to learn the language.

Aside from the questions that you will receive during your interview, the officer will also present you with a few questions that you will be required to read out loud. Some sentences will also be read out to you, and you will be required to write them down as you hear them.

The purpose of this test is not to prove that you are perfectly fluent in English. You don’t need to have perfect English. However, you must have a decent-enough knowledge to function as a citizen.

The English test for U.S. citizenship may be retaken a second time in the event that you do not pass it the first time. You will be rescheduled within 90 days of the first interview, during which you will have more time to study for the test.

The USCIS website has a lot of resources that you may use, but at the same time, you may also seek advice from your immigration attorney. They have likely seen many people in your circumstance, and will probably be able to offer some advice on what you can do. This can help make the second round of the interview go smoother.

Exceptions to the English Test Requirement

In some cases, you might be exempt from taking the English test, mostly through 50/20 and 55/15, as they are commonly referred to. If you are a green card holder and have been a lawful permanent resident of the United States for at least 20 years, and are over 50 years of age, you will be exempt from taking the text – mostly because it is expected that by that point, you will have learned English to a decent level.

The same thing applies to 55/15 waivers. If you are over 55 years of age and have lived for at least 15 years in the United States, then you may not have to take the test. These years don’t necessarily have to be consecutive. At the same time, it’s best if the absences are as minimal or brief as possible. For example, if you take the average leisure holiday overseas but return shortly, then you won’t be affected. However, if you often take a couple of months off to stay in your home country, then you might be required to take the test.

Your mental or physical health can also exempt you from taking the test. If you have a certain disability that prevents you from learning the English language, a doctor will be signing the N-640 form on your behalf, where they explain your disability.

Bear in mind that the rules for a disability-based waiver are rather strict. Should these rules apply to you, you may want to work with a good immigration attorney to ensure that everything goes flawlessly.

Other Requirements to Become a U.S. Citizen

You know that you need to be proficient in basic English, but what are some other requirements in becoming a U.S. citizen? Are there any other demands that you need to worry about?

Well, learning basic English is just one of our concerns. Unless you apply based on your military services or you are eligible for some sort of exemption, you also need to meet these requirements.

  • You need to be at the minimum required age (in most cases, that age is 18 years old). The exception may be if you are applying during wartime – in which case you may be of any age.
  • You must have been a green card holder that has physically and continuously lived in the United States for at least a couple of years. This continuous presence does not mean that you can’t travel outside the United States. It just means that you can’t leave the United States for more than six months at a time during your minimum first 3-5 years of residency.
  • You must establish a place of residency in the state or district where you wish to apply for your citizenship. If you need to leave the United States for more than 6 months a year, you need to show that you have the intention of coming back to the U.S. A place of residence in your name might show this intention.
  • You need to be considered as having a “good moral character,” with a criminal history as clear as possible.
  • You need to show that you have good knowledge of U.S. history along with the government.
  • If you are a male that has reached a certain age, you have to sign up for military service and show that you are willing to serve in the event that your performance is required.
  • You need to swear your allegiance to the United States of America.

Depending on case to case, you might have to show further proof and documentation to receive your citizenship. In some cases, you may be exempt from some of these rules, whereas in other cases you might have to provide further documentation.

This is why you might want to speak with a good immigration attorney if there are any hiccups to your application. They should be able to guide you into acceptance. If your green card application process goes smoothly, you should eventually have your green card mailed to you.

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Final Thoughts

So, is speaking English a requirement for US citizenship? As you may have realized, yes, you have to know at least some basic English. After all, you are planning to join their community. You can’t expect to be considered American (as your citizenship will say) if you can’t even speak the language. Granted, you don’t need to be an expert in the language like a born-there citizen would – but you need to know just enough to be able to function there.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Is Speaking English a Requirement for U.S. Citizenship?

No, speaking English is not an absolute requirement for U.S. citizenship. However, there are specific language requirements that applicants must meet. To become a U.S. citizen, applicants must demonstrate their ability to read, write, and speak basic English. They will be tested on their English language skills during the naturalization interview. There are exemptions from the English language requirement for certain individuals, including those who are over a certain age and have been permanent residents for a long time.

2. What Is the English Language Test for U.S. Citizenship?

The English language test for U.S. citizenship assesses an applicant’s ability to understand, speak, read, and write in English. During the naturalization interview, applicants will be asked questions in English about their eligibility and background. They are also required to read and write a sentence in English.

3. Are There Exemptions from the English Language Requirement?

Yes, there are exemptions from the English language requirement. Applicants who are 50 years old or older and have been permanent residents for at least 20 years, or applicants who are 55 years old or older and have been permanent residents for at least 15 years, are exempt from the English language requirement. Additionally, some individuals with medical disabilities may qualify for exemptions.

4. Can I Use an Interpreter During the Naturalization Interview?

In some cases, you may be allowed to use an interpreter during the naturalization interview. USCIS provides interpreters for certain languages, and you can also bring your own interpreter if they meet USCIS criteria. However, the English language requirement still applies, and you will be tested on your ability to understand and respond in English.

5. How Can I Prepare for the English Language Test?

To prepare for the English language test, applicants can take advantage of resources such as English language classes, study guides, and practice tests. USCIS provides study materials and resources on its official website to help applicants prepare for the test.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.