Say I want to apply to a program like Comparative Literature or Classics, where it is required that during the program I will pick up at least X languages and will have to sit language exams etc. but it is not required in any way to already speak these languages at admission to the program.


Will stating that I already speak relevant language X (because it's my native language say) or have already studied language Y for two years (because I want to focus on writer A who wrote in language Y) be an advantage? And if so, how much of an advantage will this be?

I guess it is obvious that schools will care mostly about the quality of the candidate's research etc. but what role would knowing (relevant) foreign languages play here?

PS: Note that I am talking only about foreign languages relevant to the program here. So for example latin for a classics program, or german & french for a comparative literature program where someone wants to focus on precisely these languages.

  • 2
    If the program has you reading texts in those languages, or instructs in them, their not just advantageous, they're almost certainly required. If the program is taught and reads in English, it can't hurt to know the languages, so of course that'd be an advantage Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 5:32
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    This likely varies by program, but example: german.yale.edu/academics/graduate-program-german/… It states there is a test of language proficiency in second term in German, and in the third term you would need to demonstrate reading knowledge in another non-native language which is directly applicable (like French). It seems that they allow "time for improvement" during the study, but it seems that someone without any previous study of the key languages would be at a great disadvantage compared to those with a background in the languages already.
    – BrianH
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 16:17
  • sure, this is certainly true. but what does it mean for admissions? Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 16:32
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    @ChrisDoyle It would mean they wouldn't admit somebody they don't think would have a good chance passing that test (at least with a semester's practice). You'd show you have a good chance passing by demonstrating coursework or some other way of showing you really know the language.
    – user10636
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 16:35

1 Answer 1


In Art History, this depends greatly on the language and the area of study. For example, an individual who wants to study Italian Renaissance would likely benefit from knowing Italian, French and German. These are such common languages and the Art is so well studied, that knowing them in advance is likely of little value in regards to admissions. On the other hand, if you want to study ancient Hindi art, then demonstrating that you know Sanskrit could be valuable for admissions since the university may not routinely offer the language and you likely need to be able to read it to write a reasonable proposal.

  • so you are saying that pretty much most modern languages are not likely to be an asset. Knowing german and italian when applying for a Classics PhD, although highly relevant for Classics, is not going to make much of a difference. But knowing ancient greek or latin maybe would? Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 20:48
  • @ChrisDoyle knowing German would be invaluable for a classics PhD as a great deal of the literature on ancient languages is written in German to this day (more so than Italian).
    – virmaior
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 12:12
  • @virmaior the question is focused on if learning German before applying would help with admissions and not if learning it later would help with research
    – StrongBad
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 13:12
  • @StrongBad I didn't miss that. I think for a classics PhD application, prior German knowledge would be a strong asset as an applicant. Obviously, it would be outranked by some sign of competency in the ancient languages themselves.
    – virmaior
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 14:24
  • I am slightly confused now. So @StrongBad is saying that popular languages are likely to be of little value, because they are so commonly studied. German would fall into this category I would assume. virmaior now says that German would be an asset for Classics, as it is highly relevant there. But so are Italian/French/German for s.o. studying the Italian Renaissance. And this is of course what my question targets. Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 19:06

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