For my Masters degree I am studying at an Armenian university. There is only one professor at the department who speaks English, who I do my Masters by research under. None of the other professors speak English and I have not learned Armenian.

If I want to continue my studies in Canada/US I need two or three recommendation letters to get admission for a PhD program. How can I acquire 3 recommendation letters when only my advisor knows me well enough to write a letter?

  • This is an unusual situation, but not all letters need to be from professors. Are there other people who can write strong letters about your ability and skills?
    – Anyon
    Aug 29, 2018 at 3:01
  • I deleted my answer since it was clearly off-topic. My understanding of the question is, Agneta Gauck studied at a university where only one professor speaks the same language as him. Now he needs three recommendation letters, how to get them?
    – Allure
    Aug 29, 2018 at 4:42
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    I'm not a mathematician, so take my opinion with a bit of skepticism, but "So I will study all courses and do all research with only one professor who speaks English." is not a good situation to be in and even if you achieve the Master, you'll likely be severely limited. Input from different sources is an important part of advanced learning and professors are your most important source.
    – user9482
    Aug 29, 2018 at 10:54
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    Of course this may be impossible, but I suggest you explore continuing your education elsewhere than Armenia. It seems like a disadvantage to study with a restriction that you can only get effective advice from a single person. Exploring the options might open a door or two.
    – Buffy
    Aug 29, 2018 at 11:39

2 Answers 2


References should be from people who know you professionally. This includes not only people from your current University. Consider asking a reference from the following groups of people:

  • Your collaborators or coauthors in English-speaking world.
  • Your professors' colleagues who know your work. Even if they don't speak English, but know what your are doing, you can get their reference and translate it to English using a recognised translation service.
  • The referees for your PhD work are ideal candidates to write your references. They will have to know your work and they may know English well or good enough to compose a letter, perhaps with some help from you or a translator.
  • People you met in conferences and discussed some aspects of your work in relation to theirs, even when it did not result in joint publications, can write you a recommendation. This is a bit unusual, but still better than nothing. I used this option once when I had no better ones.

I also think, that it is very likely that the situation is not as dire as you describe: there may be professors or lecturers with good command of English near to you and there is still enough time to make them aware of your work. The problem is mostly with the lack of networking, but this is possible to fix. Join the local English-speaking club. Check if your University has a seminar series you can present at. Check if other Universities in your area or nearby run seminars where you can go and present. Check if there is a local conference or scientific event where you can go and talk.

When you are on such events, join conference dinners, lunches and similar social events. Don't hesitate to ask people for help or start conversation in English. Many people in post-Soviet countries study some English in school and they are usually happy when an opportunity comes to finally use it. They may not speak perfect English, but all you need is to introduce yourself, share one interesting topic of discussion, and get their name, which leads you to their email address. Do not hesitate to drop an email: even of their spoken English is not excellent, people usually do much better reading an email, particularly with help of online dictionaries or automatic translation services. Stay positive, keep trying, use simple and straightforward language and you will hopefully find that communication barrier is not that high.

Good luck.


I hate to say it, but it seems that you have squeezed yourself into such a tight situation that a solution is almost impossible. But it seems that you are the one doing the squeezing, though you don't describe outside pressure (other than financial) that might exist. It is hard for an outsider to give advice without knowing you.

However, It seems to me that failing to learn Armenian may be the biggest block here. Maybe you just need to do that so that you can communicate with others effectively in your studies. If those others know you and can write letters, even in Armenian, you can have them translated easily enough. But the language will make other things easier as well.

  • There is no other reason than financial. In Armenia tuition is 400usd/year and cost of living is 200usd/year. I can't ind any other country which such a low cost (and easy admission for low GPA) otherwise I will switch there immediately.
    – user142414
    Aug 29, 2018 at 13:22
  • (I will stay in here for a short time and I will never need Armenian when I move out and I need to spend time on research (maths) esp when Armenian language is very difficult to learn)
    – user142414
    Aug 29, 2018 at 13:24
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    @AgnetaGauck As Buffy says, translators can solve the language barrier for a recommendation letter. The difficulty is in that you only know one person, when you will always need three or four. The only solution to that is to get to know more people on a professional level, and in your situation that pretty much requires you to learn the language. Aug 29, 2018 at 13:25

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