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Modern Language: Is a two-year certificate overkill?


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I'm a returning adult student, aiming for a PhD in Classics, and hope to get funding.

I've currently signed up for a p/t diploma in Attic Greek (2nd and 3rd year), since Covid has hampered my overseas application plans. While I'm doing this, I also have the option of studying German for 2 years, earning a Certificate of Languages. Is it worth it, or overkill to meet modern language requirements?

I already have Uni courses in modern Italian (2 years/4 terms) and Latin (3 years/6 terms).

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Been working as a foreign lang teacher myself for several years now and I often hear similar things from ppl who want to start classes.

What exactly do you want to accomplish with this certificate and why this certificate and not another?


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I need to be able to read German secondary scholarship. Some of the historical scholarship I want to read is from the late 19th century, and I've been warned that the language from that period can deviate from contemporary German. It's all a little intimidating.

A uni certificate is around the same cost as coursework with the Goethe Society. However, the latter is more flexible. Not sure what's the better approach for someone who only wants to read secondary literature.

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In other words, it doesn't matter where you ll study or what certificate you'll get but to learn German that allows you to read German non-fiction books from the 19th cent.

I have to be honest here, if you are applying to start a PhD in 2022-3 and have no prior knowledge of German, it will be very hard to learn enough German to make an impact while you are writing your PhD. Getting to a level that allows you to read 19th century philology books requires many hundreds of hours of serious study, by the time you ve accomplished this you ll be deep in the writing of your PhD. In terms of cost-benefit, I think it's not worth it.

And yes, I'm aware many universities and language schools say otherwise - but then they clearly have an interest to do so. Keep also in mind that (in my experience) foreign lang classes organized by unis allow for false beginners to join beginner classes.

However, if we leave aside  this unrealistic aim, you might find a tutor (look online, there are plenty of good teachers for as little as 10-15 dollars per hour) work at your own pace and focus at your own needs as a PhD student (make it clear from the beginning what you want and ask whether they can help you with your particular needs.) You wont be able to read Nietzsche or Goethe in a year from now, but you ll be able to learn some relevant terminology and make some sense out of short texts.

Hope this helps.

PS as a Greek myself I have plenty of friends with advanced studies in Ancient Greek language, philosophy and history (one of them currently a lecturer in the UK and another one here in Athens) without speaking a word of German. Although it helps to have access to the German literature on your topic it is by no means a necessary condition. Attic is a diff story ofc.

Edited by Yorgo
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One is not generally expected to know modern languages already when applying to Classics PhD programs. It can help, but it's a pretty minor factor, much less important than Greek and Latin skills, writing sample, and letters of recommendation. I'd say definitely take more Latin/Greek over a certificate in German (and work more on application materials), since you already have a modern language. Certainly can't hurt to learn German--it just probably won't help that much for applications.

Edited by Marcus_Aurelius
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