Second Language Requirement

Doctoral candidates are required to demonstrate proficiency in a second language. The student’s major professor and the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies must approve the choice of a language. If a student’s major professor considers proficiency in more than one language necessary to the student’s specific plan of study, exams in more than one language may be required.

Proficiency is defined as a reading knowledge of a second language. For the PhD in English, proficiency is demonstrated in at least one of several ways:

  • Completion of the fourth semester of a college-level language course or higher with a grade of B or better.
  • Demonstration of second language proficiency required as part of a bachelor’s program or a master’s program. The student will need written evidence of second language proficiency (notation on transcript, letter from former institution, e.g.).
  • While a doctoral student, completion of an upper level U/G or graduate course in literature, theory, or translation offered by a language department (a grade of B or better). The course readings cannot be in English. Or, completion of a “reading knowledge” course in a second language with a grade of B or better. Note that, currently, “reading knowledge” courses are seldom available at UWM. Advance approval from the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies is required for students who choose this option. Courses that are listed as undergraduate courses only, i.e. designated with a ‘U’, can not be taken for graduate credit even if the course is approved for Second Language Requirements. Teaching Assistants who wish to take a ‘U’ class to meet Second Language Requirements must take at least six graduate credits in addition to the ‘U’ class in order to meet Graduate School enrollment requirements. Students who are not Teaching Assistants may want to determine if a ‘U’ course qualifies as proper enrollment for the purposes of financial aid.
  • Completion of a BA or an MA in a language of instruction other than English, which will be the case for many international students. Exceptions will be determined on a case by case basis by the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies.
  • Doctoral students in Plan B may elect to demonstrate second language proficiency using a computational language. Chosen languages should have direct relevance to the student’s program of study. Students may demonstrate proficiency through completion of appropriate coursework in computational languages, subject to the approval of the advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. Proficiency may also be demonstrated in computational languages through the completion of an exam. Proficiency examinations for computational languages will require students to complete a complex programming task related to the student’s course of study.
  • Second Language Exam: Students who have not met the criteria stated above must take a two-hour written translation exam, which consists of a short passage (approximately 500 words) of scholarly or literary prose to translate. Students may use a dictionary and/or grammar book in the exam. A qualified faculty member will evaluate the exam by making a judgment about the student’s ability to deal with grammatical and syntactical problems in the language, and will write a brief letter to the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies (and copied to the student) indicating whether the student has passed the exam. Students who do not pass the exam may retake it the following semester. Students should endeavor to pass the language exam before taking the preliminary examination, as dissertator status cannot be obtained until the second language requirement is satisfied. To request an exception to retake the exam after passing the preliminary exam and applying for dissertator status, a student must seek approval via an RFE from their Major Advisor, the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies, and the Graduate School. TA eligibility for doctoral students in their fourth year requires passage of the second language and preliminary examinations by the end of the third-year spring semester, as well as application for dissertator status.

Scheduling the second language exam

Unless there are exceptional circumstances, language exams are given twice a year: mid-Fall and mid-Spring semester. Students arrange to take the exam by notifying the Graduate Program Manager. The Associate Chair for Graduate Studies locates a faculty member to design and evaluate the exam. Because language exams are given at designated times, the faculty member evaluates all students taking the same exam at that time. The Associate Chair, not the student, sets up the specific time and place of the exam.

In order to ensure that the student has met the Second Language Requirement, The Second Language Requirement Certification form must be completed by the student, the Major Professor and the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies. The form provides the student and the Major Professor with an opportunity to review the method by which the student intends to satisfy second language requirements and to certify that the method used qualifies for that purpose. The Second Language Requirement Certification form is available on the Graduate Student Handbook’s online Forms Checklist and Links page.