Foreign Language Requirement

Students in the Literature program must fulfill a foreign language requirement that demonstrates their ability to use the language in research. The Coordinator of Graduate Studies for the department has the responsibility of administering this requirement.

General Rules governing the requirement:

  1. You may fulfill the requirement, at least in theory, by demonstrating reading competence in any language other than English relevant to your research. In practice, you may elect any language in which a) a suitable examiner can be found or b) appropriate courses are offered at the university. The department itself regularly administers examinations in the following languages: Latin, French, German, Spanish, and Italian. Students wishing to fulfill the requirement in another language should consult with the Coordinator of Graduate Studies well before they expect to complete the requirement.
  2. M.A. candidates must fulfill the language requirement before taking the M.A. exam. Students who enter the department with an M.A. degree already in hand must have passed the foreign language requirement before they take the Comprehensive Examination.
  3. Literature students may satisfy the foreign language requirement in one of three ways: by receiving a grade of Pass on the departmental translation test; by earning an "A" in either a senior-level or graduate literature course in the language; or by earning an "A" in one of several graduate-level translation courses offered every Spring. The departmental examination may be retaken only once. Greek, Latin, French, German, Spanish, Russian, and Italian automatically qualify as acceptable languages for the requirement; other languages must be approved by the Graduate Studies Coordinator and Graduate Literature Program Director. The language requirement must be met before the student may take the preliminary examination.
  4. The requirement may be fulfilled through a translation test (this by far the most common way of fulfilling it). The following guidelines govern the test:
    1. The exam will be a two-and-a-half hour translation test (from the foreign language into English). Candidates will be given a passage of scholarly writing and a passage of literary writing (350-500 words each) in the foreign language and asked to choose one of them to translate. Students may use a dictionary and verb book.
    2. The grader will not know the name or the level (M.A. or Ph.D.) of the candidate.
    3. The grade of PASS satisfies the language requirement for both M.A. and Ph.D. students.
    4. To assist students preparing for the departmental exam, the Coordinator of Graduate Students maintains files of sample passages in the languages for which the department itself administers and grades the exam (French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Latin). The actual exam passages need not be selected from the works from which the sample passages come; the purpose of the samples is to suggest the kinds of materials on which the candidates can expect to be tested, and the level of difficulty.
    5. The following criteria will be used in grading the exam

 FAIL:  The translation shows a general misunderstanding of the basic events of the passage or is repeatedly inaccurate. Verb tenses and idioms are repeatedly mistranslated. The translation is overly literal, displaying no sense of the nuances of the original. The translation is incomplete.

 PASS:  The translation is complete and accurately conveys the sense of the passage, without distortions (although minor lapses are permitted). Basic verb tenses and idioms are translated correctly. The translation is not overly literal and is written in fluent, idiomatic English.

  1. Candidates who fail the exam should consult with their Program Director to see how they can satisfy the foreign language requirement, either by retaking the exam or in some other way, such as through course work.
  2. Students who elect to take the departmental test are limited to two attempts. Students who fail the exam a second time must then register for a graduate translation/reading course in order to fulfill the Foreign Language Requirement.


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