Ph.D. Foreign Language Proficiency Requirements | Teachers College Columbia University

Skip to content Skip to main navigation
English Education

English Education

In the Department of Arts & Humanities

Skip to content Skip to content

Ph.D. Foreign Language Proficiency Requirements

All Ph.D. students are required to fulfill certain language proficiency requirements. Please find below resources for taking proficiency exams and a list of Frequently Asked Questions regarding these requirements. If you do not find answers to your questions, please contact Gary Ardan in T.C.’s Office of Doctoral Studies ardan@ or (212) 678-3365).

DO NOT contact Columbia University’s Department of English & Comparative Literature regarding these requirements. Thanks so much!

Foreign Language Proficiency Requirements Resources


Click here to sign up for the French proficiency exam.

Administered five times a year in February, April, July, October, and December. Notification to sit is to be made no less than one week in advance of the examination via email to Ms. Benita Dace, Department of French and Romance Philology Assistant, Columbia University, or call (212) 854-2500.


Click here to sign up for the Spanish proficiency exam.

Contact the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, 401 Casa Hispanica, (212) 854-4187 to make arrangements.


Administered in the beginning of September and the weeks of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences' final examinations in December and May.

Contact Professor Richard Korb, Department of Germanic Languages, (212) 854-2070, 311 Hamilton Hall, or Peg Quisenberry, assistant, to make arrangements. You can also E-mail Ms. Quisenberry for a sample examination.

Russian (Slavic Languages)

Administered, upon request to the Department Chair's office.

Contact Professor Frank Miller, (212) 854-3941, Room 708 Hamilton Hall, Columbia University.

Click here to view the History Department website for sample exams.

Click here for Columbia University’s GSAS English & Comparative Lit. website.

Click here for Teachers College ODS (Office of Doctoral Studies) website.

Frequently Asked Questions

Students must demonstrate proficiency in two languages. Demonstrated proficiency in one language fulfills the requirements for the Masters degree, while the second qualifies a student for the MPhil, or doctoral candidacy.

According to T.C.'s standards, in order to be considered proficient in a foreign language, you must accurately translate a page of literary or critical prose in two hours, using a dictionary.

Yes, as long as it bears a clear relevance to the candidate's prospective work.

Examples are Continental languages in which much theoretical and scholarly discussion is carried on (French, German, Spanish), Classical languages that English-language writers often cite (Greek, Hebrew, Latin), the other literary languages of the British Isles (Irish, Welsh), and languages of major colonial and post-colonial populations closely engaged with England (Arabic, Hindi, Zulu). 

In order for students to take a proficiency exam in a language other than those regularly offered, they must submit a paragraph to that language department explaining why the student wishes to be tested in that particular language and why it is relevant to their field of study. 

PARAGRAPH SAMPLE: I wish to take the language proficiency exam in (insert language) because I plan on working in (insert country where people speak that language) eventually. Since there are no writing centers that operate there etc, it would be a tremendous opportunity for both the field and my research. However, in order to pursue this goal, I must be able to read literature on (insert language) pedagogies that is published in (insert language). As a future expert, I will also need to publish some of my work in (insert language), and hence, need to be fully fluent. I also need to be able to converse freely with future colleagues in that language. 

Students can take the exam any time, but should do so no later than the semester before defending their dissertation.

The two-hour exam is based on the translation into English of a scholarly text approximately two pages in length (using a dictionary is allowed).

No, the exams do not cost anything, so you can take them multiple times with no penalty.

As many times as necessary.

The language requirement can be fulfilled with a grade of B+ or better in an intermediate-level undergraduate language class, or a grade of B+ or better in a graduate class whose language of instruction is the language in question; in both cases the language class must be taken during the student's enrollment in the Columbia graduate program. Students on fellowship have tuition coverage for academic year and summer language courses, although these courses do not count toward graduate course requirements. The Director of Graduate Studies should be consulted for any questions on unusual circumstances.

You can also take two Statistics Classes as a substitute (See Appendix B for further info).

Several of the language departments offer periodic "proficiency exams" throughout the year, including within the first three weeks of the Fall Term. Consult with the Graduate Coordinator for the times. If the department for the language you wish to be examined in does not offer exams on a regular basis, you should consult the individual department directly.

Students should sign up at least one month ahead of time, as the room fills up quickly.

Rapid Reading and Translation (SPAN W1113 or PORT W1113) is usually offered in the spring semester. Students who complete the class with an A or A- will be exempted from the language proficiency exam (also referred to as reading proficiency exam). The English Education department will be notified of the outcome at the end of the semester.

It is up to the individual language department. Students must contact the appropriate department to find out.

Generally, students are given a two-hour time limit, but this is up to the individual language department.

Generally, dictionaries are allowed. Students must contact the appropriate language department to find out.

Generally, dictionaries are provided. Students must contact the appropriate language department to find out.