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Foreign Language?

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Ok. Just HOW much foreign language are you really supposed to know when applying for phd programs. Ive had professors tell me not to sweat it and that foreign language exams are usually made incredibly easy. For instance, one professor told me he had never taken italian in his life, studied for 4 days, and passed the exam. Its been a while since I've brushed up on those languages.

Ive got some Spanish and French in me, but the French was so long ago. What exactly IS proficiency? It is basically just French 2? Even so, I'd have really revisit those textbooks.

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It varies by the school.


In many schools you have to pass a proficiency test after a year of study and are required to translate modern text of moderate difficulty level that discusses a topic from the discipline taught in the Department. That translates into Intermediate level proficiency.


It's difficult to believe that a person could have passed Italian exam after 4 days of study. They may have meant these words just by way of encouragement.


Or perhaps in this school it's that easy.

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There are sample exams posted on the University of Chicago and Harvard sites. As far as I know they represent a fairly standard expectation in terms of translation/reading exams. 



In terms of someone passing an exam after 4 days of study—it's doable imo, but would take a lot of work. Since you're generally allowed to work with a dictionary, it would be possible for someone to cram the grammar of a language, and then rely on the dictionary for vocabulary. I can see this being particularly possible in terms of the Romance languages, where someone with French competency/fluency might have an easier time picking up Italian or Spanish. 


Also: generally schools expect incoming students to be able to pass one of the exams after their first year, and then to have developed proficiency in a second language by the end of the second. In many cases, you are not able to take general exams and/or teach/TA until you have proven competency in two languages. 

Edited by poliscar
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