Language Requirement

Language Credits

Graduate students should meet with their faculty advisor(s) shortly after arriving on campus to discuss language requirements. Any necessary language study should begin as soon as possible. Incoming students may begin language study at Duke in the summer preceding their first academic year in the program.

In general, credit is not allowed for graduate courses (including transfer courses) for foreign language examinations taken more than six years prior to the date of the preliminary examination. Similarly, credit will not be allowed for a preliminary examination taken more than five years prior to the date of the final examination. However, in cases of exceptional merit, the Dean of the Graduate School may extend these limits. If the five-year limit is exceeded, the student's department must submit specific requirements for revalidating credits to the Dean.

Ph.D. Candidate Requirements

All Ph.D. candidates are required to demonstrate competence in at least one foreign language as a prerequisite for preliminary certification, though students may develop additional language skills depending on their interests and the demands of their research. The student and the advisor, in consultation with the preliminary committee, will determine how many and which languages are required as well as the appropriate level of competence. These determinations will be based on the scholarly needs of the student. Normally, the language requirement will be determined in the student's first year.

Master of Arts Candidate Requirements

Candidates for the M.A. degree must demonstrate a reading knowledge of at least one ancient or modern foreign language.

NOTE: There is no language requirement for the JD/MA dual-degree program.

Options for Demonstrating Language Competency

Students offering a language that is not central to the field of study of their research may demonstrate their competence in one of four ways:

  1. Pass a written examination.

Students offering a language that is central to their dissertation research must pass a written examination administered by a History Department faculty member, or, if necessary, a faculty member outside the department. The examination will consist of translating accurately and completely a passage in academic discourse of approximately 500 words in the designated language. A dictionary and book of verbs may be used. One major error in translation (e.g. a sentence translated incorrectly) or three minor errors in translation shall constitute failing the exam. Faculty administering the examination will make every attempt to explain in advance the length of the passage to be translated and the criteria to be used in evaluation. Should a student fail the examination, the faculty member will review the examination with the student and provide the student with a copy of the examination.

  1. Complete a sequence of three undergraduate courses, or their equivalent, in the designated language with a grade of B+ (B plus) or above.

Individuals may test into the second or third course in such a sequence, but they must complete the third course at Duke. Students who have completed a third semester course at a college or university comparable in its rigor and expectations to an equivalent course at Duke may petition the Director of Graduate Studies to have the course accepted. The burden is on the applicant to demonstrate that the completed coursework is comparable to what they would have taken at Duke.

  1. Write a 10-page historical or historiographical essay based upon a significant body of primary sources or scholarly literature in the designated language, demonstrating clear understanding of the foreign-language material consulted.

This alternative is most appropriate for students who, for the dissertation and beyond, will need to work closely with primary and secondary materials in that language. The essay must be read and approved by at least one member of the prelim committee.

  1. Pass a standardized test, equivalent to the one that has been administered by ETS.