Language Proficiency

Learning a new language is perhaps the most important thing a student, especially one in the humanities, will do in her or his academic career. Languages open new bibliographies, new interpretive traditions, and new understandings of literature and the world that reliance on translations can barely approximate. We in Romance Studies believe very strongly in the utility, beauty, and importance of linguistic competences besides and beyond English and the language(s) of specialization, and recognize that various departments at Duke, along with Romance Studies, offer unique opportunities for you to learn or perfect new languages through both credited and audited courses. We strongly encourage you to keep in mind the difference between requirements and opportunities, especially when language proficiency is concerned.

In order to complete the PhD, reading proficiency in a language other than the major(s) one (and other than English) is required by the time the student takes the Dissertation Prospectus Workshop. NOTE: For the Romance Studies Ph.D. track, you must demonstrate reading proficiency in two Romance languages. This may be satisfied in one of the following ways:

  1. A 204-level course in the department or its equivalent in another department. Language courses at this level do not count toward the 14 courses required for the PhD degree.

  2. A 300 level literature course taught in the language. With the approval of the DGS, this course may count toward the 14 courses required for the PhD degree. A language course at the 400-level or above will count, but typically as a related field course, not a core course.

  3. Equivalent courses taken prior to matriculation at Duke may also satisfy this requirement, as long as the transcript shows that the student has received a grade of B+ or above.

  4. Students wishing to fulfill their requirement for a second language by means of an exam rather than coursework should make a request with a qualified examiner well in advance. The examiner will provide two short scholarly texts for translation into English: one is to be translated without a dictionary, the other with a dictionary. The exam must be completed within one hour, and will be evaluated by the examiner as either “pass” or “fail.” If a failing grade is given, the student may repeat the exam once, with new texts to translate.

NOTE: The student's advisory committee may also prescribe other languages necessary for scholarly competence in a particular field.

The Language Program Directors may make an exception to the programs’ rule against taking courses pass/fail, the following requirements will apply:

  1. students must meet the instructor’s attendance requirements
  2. students must fully participate in class, and complete all assignments/tests.

The reason for this exception is solely to relieve the stress associated with grading.  If the daily structure of these courses is untenable, please consider one of the language for reading courses offered.