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The Foreign Language Requirement

Requirements and Restrictions

The foreign language and skills requirement must be fulfilled by selecting one of the following three options:

1) Demonstrate reading competence in two foreign languages


2) Demonstrate reading competence in one foreign language and conversational competence in a field language

OR (granted only with the support of the student's faculty advisor)

3) Demonstrate reading competence in one foreign language and a passing grade in a graduate level quantitative methods course (e.g. L/R Quantitative Methods in Sociology I, COMM 524 Introduction to Statistical Analysis, COMM 694 Intermediate Statistical Methods) or a graduate level course on web technology and its application (RELS 602 Technological Approaches to the Humanities).

All students are required to take their first language exam during their first year at Penn. If a student is learning a language not previously studied, he or she should enroll in one of the language competence courses for graduate students offered by Penn during the first summer session after the first year of course work. The second foreign language must be completed before or during the completion of the Ph.D. examination. These languages are intended to be an important part of the graduate training because they are used in carrying out scholarly research and fieldwork. They therefore should be acquired as soon as possible in the graduate career. Languages studied for use in fieldwork must be directly relevant to the student's folklore/folklife scholarship. Eligible languages are subject to certain university restrictions.

English does not qualify as a foreign language, not even for foreign students. By special petition foreign students may use their native language as one of the foreign languages if it is a language appropriate to their dissertation research project. Approval may also be given when the student can prove a considerable body of folklore research has been published in that language. Students must obtain program approval of their chosen languages prior to scheduling their language exams.

Students working toward an MA only need one foreign language.

Scheduling and Format of Individually Chosen Languages (outside of coursework)

Once their language selections have been approved, students take a translation examination (into English) to demonstrate their reading competence. These tests are administered by the Graduate Advisor in consultation with the Graduate Chair. There is no scheduled time for language exams; students may take them at any time However, language exams must be completed before the student takes oral comprehensive examinations. Notify the Graduate Advisor at least a week in advance of your intention to take a language exam, and it will be set up for you.

The examination itself consists of a short passage from a scholarly article in the foreign language. You are allowed two hours to translate the passage into English. You may use a dictionary.


There are members of the folklore and folklife faculty who are able to grade these examinations, but in cases where a language is approved but not covered by the faculty, arrangements will be made by the graduate chair to get someone outside the program to administer and grade the examination. If the student fails the exam on the first try, he/she may try one more time.

Satisfying the Language Requirement through Courses

In the first six-week summer session, Penn offers free reading courses in French and German for registered Ph.D. students. All students taking the courses must sign up for credit; no auditors will be allowed. More information on these courses will be available from Dean Farrells office (Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences, College Hall) toward the end of the Spring semester.

Courses in other languages are available both at Penn and elsewhere in the Philadelphia area. As of February 1991, tuition for basic courses in a second foreign language (once the requirement for the first language has been fulfilled) is covered by fellowships and teaching assistantships during the tenure of such awards. Students should register for credit (not audit) for such courses in the normal way and will receive grades on their transcripts. However, no graduate credit (toward the 20-course-unit requirement for the Ph.D. degree) will be granted for undergraduate language classes.

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