Would this be considered at all, or is this not even important? I am not talking about fields which have these foreign languages as their object of study, or where it is obvious that the language would help (if I were to study French Literature, knowledge of French would obviously be important).

But what about fields which are primarily English, so say I want to do my PhD in Political Theory. There are probably a few articles in foreign languages I could make use of, but English seems just fine. Would knowing a foreign language still be an advantage, or not really?

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    In the US, many institutions still some knowledge of a foreign language for the PhD, even in technical fields where English is nearly a universal language. This is becoming less common over time but the rule is still hanging around in some places. I was excused from the requirement to take such an exam based on undergraduate courses that I'd taken in German and German literature. I've never had any reason to read academic papers written in German. Sep 19, 2017 at 15:35
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    @BrianBorchers: But even at places where such a requirement exists, I don't think knowledge of the language is a factor in admissions. The exams are generally at a level that any student can pass with reasonable study, so knowing the language doesn't particularly increase your overall chance of success in the program. Sep 19, 2017 at 16:28
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    Define foreign. I consider English a foreign language. You apparently not. Sep 19, 2017 at 17:54
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    Political theory seems like one of those areas where knowledge of several languages would be beneficial for a researcher. Can you really understand e.g. Soviet political history without knowledge of Russian? Sep 19, 2017 at 18:04
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    @BrianBorchers In don't see a reference to the US in main question. That is the point of my comment: If George wanted to limit the question to a particular geographic area, then he needs to do so explicitly in the question. Sep 20, 2017 at 7:23

2 Answers 2


I'd say that if the programme(the course) does not include or require any other language than English, the knowledge of the other languages "might be"(so it does not have too much chance) taken in consideration. This probably also depends on in which country you are going to study your PhD. But they focus on mostly the subjects related to the course, and the degree you have graduated with. But I think it would help you getting a job after your studies. After all, if you learn a new language you don't lose anything but gain knowledge of a different culture (unless you consider the time spent for learning is lost and was not worth).


In many countries faculty, especially new faculty, are not expected to know the local language(s). They communicate in English (or some other language) with the locals and collaborate in that language. Hence, knowing foreign languages that are present in the faculty would be useful, as it opens up more choices for advisors.

Otherwise, if the field uses many sources or articles in foreign languages, then people might give some weight to knowing those foreign languages. English is a typical useful foreign language in many fields.

  • Certainly knowing foreign languages is useful in general, but I think this question is about whether it makes a difference for grad school applications (in the title, but not in the body).
    – Kimball
    Oct 9, 2018 at 13:39
  • @Kimball I feel I answer that question, especially in the first paragraph.
    – Tommi
    Oct 9, 2018 at 13:45

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