Foreign Language Requirement for Graduate Study in History at UIC


Graduate students at the M.A. and Ph.D. programs must demonstrate a reading knowledge of one language other than English. The purpose of this requirement is different for students who will be working extensively with foreign-language sources while in graduate school than for students who will not, so the History Department has designed two paths to fulfillment of the requirement. Students are to select one of the two paths in consultation with their advisors.
 

FAQs about the Foreign Language Examination

Path I. This path is intended for Ph.D. students who will be working extensively (i.e. on a daily or weekly basis) with foreign-language primary and secondary sources in their research for the dissertation. The goal is to ensure that these students are adequately prepared to comprehend, analyze, and translate sources in at least one of the primary languages in which they will be working. Students on Path I must successfully pass a written exam, which comprises translating a passage of college-level prose, roughly one page in length, into standard English. Students are given two hours to complete the exam, for which they are allowed use of a dictionary. The text is selected and the exam is read by a two-member faculty committee (either from inside or outside of the History Department) appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies. A passing grade is given for an exam that demonstrates graduate-level proficiency in translating the text both in its specific details and in its overall meaning, not by translating it word for word but by conveying the sense of each sentence clearly and correctly. If a student fails the exam, it may be twice retaken.

Path II. This path is designed for Ph.D. students who will not regularly depend on foreign-language sources for their research, as well as for all students in the terminal-M.A. program. The goal is to ensure that these students possess a basic ability to understand written work in at least one language other than English, sufficient to allow them to read primary and secondary sources with a general level of comprehension when they encounter them. Such familiarity with, if not fluency in, another language is an increasingly important qualification for teaching, scholarship, and participation in the profession for all historians today, especially given the transnational turn of historical scholarship in all fields and the multilingual diversity of high-school and college history students. This requirement is intended to encourage a broad acquaintance with non-English sources and perspectives, providing a gateway for scholars of British and U.S. history in particular to pursue lines of inquiry that cross the English-language border. Students on Path II may fulfill the language requirement either by passing a written exam or by taking a course:

  • The written exam for Path II calls for paraphrasing rather than translating a passage of college-level prose, roughly one page in length, and then answering a brief series of guided questions about the text. Students are given two hours to complete the exam, for which they are allowed use of a dictionary. The text is selected and the exam is read by a two-member faculty committee (either from inside or outside of the History Department) appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies. A passing grade is given for an exam that demonstrates basic comprehension of the main ideas and overall meaning of the text. If a student fails the exam, it may be twice retaken.
  • Alternatively, students on Path II may fulfill the requirement by completing and receiving a grade of “A” or “B” in a relevant language course. This can be either a graduate-level readings course (e.g., French 401: Reading French for Graduate Students, or German 400: German for Reading Knowledge) or a 104-level undergraduate language course (i.e., the intermediate level corresponding to the fourth semester of college language instruction).

All graduate students must complete the language requirement no later than the semester prior to taking the Comprehensive or Preliminary Exams. In special cases, students may request postponements or waivers of the language requirement, in consultation with their advisors, by petitioning the Graduate Advisory Committee. Such waivers may be granted, for example, to Ph.D. students who are native non-English speakers or whose research plans require special training in a skill comparable to learning a language, such as quantitative analysis. Students in the terminal-M.A. program may be granted waivers if no foreign language is directly relevant to their studies.