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How are foreign language skills viewed in Political Science Phd applications?


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Obviously it varies by subfield, but in general, how are foreign language skills viewed? Do most people have advanced training in one or two foreign languages when they apply? Would that set someone apart? Would having no foreign language training be a red flag, or the norm? Thanks.

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It obviously does vary by subfield. In American, my lack of knowledge of languages hasn't slowed me down and I'll be skipping languages in favor of advanced methods in grad school. If you are in a subfield where language skills are important for subfield, I'd imagine that it is more likely to be a problem if you don't have any language skills than setting someone apart if they did have them.

I just went to my first recruitment event and it seemed a lot of the incoming class in comparative/IR had other language skills and the current grad students didn't have the same level of knowledge on language resources that they did on everything else about their program because they hadn't used them, owing to coming in with language skills or skipping languages for advanced methods.

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Obviously it varies by subfield, but in general, how are foreign language skills viewed? Do most people have advanced training in one or two foreign languages when they apply? Would that set someone apart? Would having no foreign language training be a red flag, or the norm? Thanks.

Luckily at most R1s, you do not REALLY have to chose between languages and methods training. As Max mentions above, language requirements can often be fulfilled by taking advanced methods courses. On the other hand... there are lots of supplemental funds to pay for graduate students who want to take language courses or immersions outside of their home institutuion.

I am in comparative/methods so I plan to take the methods courses and then apply for a summer language grant and head to my region of interest to brush up on those skills.

With regards to students applying to graduate school, I don't think that language profficiency will set you back in any way... unless priority was given to learning languages over familiarity with basic methods and literatures in the field. After all, chances are you will not confine your program of study to a single country once you attain a PhD and there is a good chance that English is an official (or at least working) language in your areas of interest. I have good working knowledge of French and a few local dialects because a. I am canadian and french language training is mandatory in HS and b. becuase I have worked in the field where you need to be able to pay for food, request transportation, and conduct basic conversations in the local dialect. I do not think this is necessarily the norm. After all, most of the PIs I have worked with do not speak any of the local diaects... if they can get away with it, chances are you can too!

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Sorry if I wasn't clear, but I was wondering how helpful having extensive foreigh language training will be in the applications process. I'm asking purely for selfish reasons: I'm advanced in Arabic, reading knowledge of French, and a year of Hebrew training.

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Shorter version of what I said before: It certainly doesn't hurt. I don't think its going to make you stand out from the field enough to really help a lot either. If you are applying in American, it probably helps less.

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I think it depends on the fit. I know that for my acceptance to Penn it certainly contributed. My subfield is theory, and one of the professors there does research on Carl Schmitt. In a subsequent email, the professor mentioned that she "remembered my application well" because I would be able to read him and other German thinkers in the original German.

That was, however, the only time it has been mentioned by any committee. If your language skills have direct and clear research application, then I'm sure it wouldn't hurt.

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If your language skills have direct and clear research application, then I'm sure it wouldn't hurt.

The clear research application is very important here. It may be something you might wish to highlight in your SOP.

I do not think it is enough to know the language(s) of your region if you are CP. Your knowledge of languages has to be useful in doing research. Say, if you have a research project in mind that entails doing archival research in the regional language, then it is useful. If you write your SOP emphasizing that you want to use quant methods or do not specify the methods, then the likelihood that your language skills will matter is probably low.

I am only extrapolating from my own experience, so, of course, I may be wrong.

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I don't think knowledge of languages is a game changer either way... the exception may be if you can use these extra skills to gain additional research experience.

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Political scientists are not exactly known for thick ethnographic field research, so to my understanding most departments don't have any language requirements, and the ones that do are not very demanding.

That said, if you're going to do field research, it's good to have the skill set necessary to facilitate your work. In many, but not all, cases that will require language training. In my department, you're expected to do language training on your own time, since language instruction doesn't count toward any of your coursework requirements. At Yale, for example, you either need to have taken two years of a language in undergrad, or you can substitute with some methods classes:

http://www.yale.edu/...s.html#language

So to answer your question, some departments will be happy to see that you have language training if it's germane to your research topic, but no one is going to care that much if you don't have any.

Edited by hupr
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