Language Requirement

Language Credits

Graduate students should meet with their faculty advisor(s) and the Director of Graduate Studies shortly after arriving on campus to discuss language requirements. Any necessary language study should begin as soon as possible.

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 additional languages are essential as well as the appropriate level of competence. These determinations will be based on the scholarly needs of the student.  The one mandatory language requirement for all students must be completed by the time of the preliminary examination.

Master of Arts Candidate Requirements

Candidates for the M.A. degree must demonstrate a reading knowledge of at least one foreign language prior to completion of the degree.

Demonstrating Language Competency

Students may demonstrate their foreign language competence by passing a written examination administered by the History Department. The open-book examination will consist of translating accurately and completely a passage in academic discourse of approximately 500 words in the designated language.  One major error in translation (e.g. a sentence translated incorrectly) or three minor errors in translation shall constitute failing the exam. Examination sittings are usually offered twice per semester, as scheduled by the DGS or the DGSA. When the dates for particular sittings are announced, students wishing to take an examination should alert the DGS and DGSA, indicating the target language in which they wish to be examined. The Department then identifies an appropriate member of History faculty, or if necessary a faculty member outside the department, to select an appropriate passage, which will then be evaluated by an appropriate third party. There is no limit on the number of times a student may choose to take the examination.

Students who entered the program in Fall 2018 or earlier ONLY may also choose to satisfy their language requirement in the following additional manner, though written examination is still recommended and preferred:

  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.
  2. 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.
  3. Pass a standardized test, equivalent to the one that has been administered by ETS.