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Advice for Undergrad!


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Hello! I m currently a second year undergraduate at a T30 public university on the west coast. I am hoping I can get some advice about planning for grad school while in undergrad. I'm not sure if this is the right place for this question, so if not, please let me know.

I am wondering when most grad schools expect their language requirements to be met. Of course this varies, but I am currently not fluent in another language, I don't know if I will be by the end of University. I have done a year of french, and my reading skills are ok, but I didn't really enjoy my schools curriculum, so I have been self studying since the end of the last school year. I did about five years of Mandarin as well, but not too much success, I can speak, but can't read ver well at all.

So my question is, will it look bad for applications if I haven't done extensive language studies in undergrad, and when is a graduate student typically expected to display reading ability in a foreign language? Should I consider starting another language fresh (for reference, Im not sure what area/period I am most interested in yet, but likely something W.Europe/N. America, as thats most of what my undergrad offers extensively), like German? 

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

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The advice I kept getting is that "the sooner you start studying languages, the better." I got into a PhD program having a moderate reading knowledge of French and being fluent in Russian (speaking + reading) because I am a native speaker in the latter. I have heard over and over that German is an important language, especially for Western Europe, and am planning to begin taking classes this summer to learn it from scratch. I have a classmate who is learning Italian from scratch to satisfy her language requirement but she has the luxury of doing that because she has two years do to coursework whereas I have one.


As soon as you can start, the better! Based on the info you gave, French/German/Italian/Spanish would probably be the most applicable for you, depending on what you narrow your focus to!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Dropping in to affirm that, yes, you should definitely start learning languages, mostly because that's the last thing you'll want to (AKA be able to) devote time to when you start an MA or a PhD program.

I would recommend German not only because it's helpful for art history and some AH programs will specify that you need to pass a language exam in it, but also because German is a genuinely fun and interesting language to learn that is sufficiently similar to English to expedite the learning process. As well—while I have no reason to assume that this is the case anywhere beyond my undergraduate institution—I'll add that the French-language instruction at my university was famously dismal, but the German-language courses were a delight.

French is, of course, also a hugely useful language to learn, and university and self-study are not your only options. I learned French by taking group lessons at my local Alliance Française. Again, it's not possible to say whether my experience reflects on AF generally (or internationally, because I was in Canada), but all my teachers were wonderful, and the classes are, obviously, stress-free in comparison to a university course that counts towards your GPA. 

Also, just saying: the Mandarin goes on your CV (specify "speaking: intermediate; reading and writing: beginner" or whatever you think is appropriate). 

Edited by stpirans_sapphire
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