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Demonstrating Reading Knowledge in French, German, Spanish, and Modern Hebrew (updated 8 May 2007)

The Graduate Department of Religion requires reading knowledge of one foreign language for M.A. students. PhD students must demonstrate reading  knowledge of one modern language, a second language as designated and approved by the Area and the GDR, and additional languages as specified by the Area (see Area requirements).  Reading competency in languages may be demonstrated in one of the following ways.

  • Students may pass, with the grade of B+ or higher, a Vanderbilt University course designed specifically to teach graduate students to use the language in research. The course must include a final exam. Currently such courses are offered in French, German, and Spanish.
  • Students may pass a GDR departmental examination in French, German, Spanish or Modern Hebrew. These exams enable students to work on documents in their special field of interest.  These tests are administered twice a year, just prior to the beginning of the fall and spring semesters.  Students should register through the GDR office prior to a date announced each semester.  Examiners will normally be members of the Department faculty. The test will be graded on a pass/fail basis, and the decision of the examiner will be final.
  • English as a Second Language: If a student has an existing second-language ability not developed through coursework (for example, a student whose native language is not English, bilingual students, or heritage speakers) s/he may, with the approval from their advisor, petition the department to accept their native language as satisfying one modern language requirement.  Final approval from the DGS is required.

The format for the GDR departmental examinations will be identical for all languages.  Each test will last for three hours and will have two components:

a) Translation of a short passage or paragraph (approximately one page in length), chosen at random from one issue of an approved journal (at least 100 pages in the language to be examined), or from a previously selected and approved book in French, German, or Spanish (untranslated either as a whole or in part), which the student has studied in preparation for the test.  If you select a book, it must be approved by the examiner before the registration deadline.  If you select a journal issue, you will be responsible for all the articles in that issue.

b) Précis of the content and argument of a longer passage (approximately 3-5 pages) from the same book or journal.

For the translation component, accuracy and felicity of translation and the amount completed in an hour and a half will be the criteria; for the synopsis component, clarity and thoroughness of comprehension will be the criteria. Preparation should include a thorough review of grammar and a careful study of the book or journal issue selected for the first part of the test.

Both the translation and the précis should be double-spaced or written on every other line, to provide sufficient space for the examiner to make corrections.

Use of dictionaries and grammars is permitted for both components. Recommended dictionaries include The New Cassell’s French and English Dictionary; American Heritage Larousse Spanish Dictionary; Mansion’s Shorter French Dictionary; The New Cassell’s German Dictionary; and Langenscheidt’s New College German Dictionary.

For preparation in Spanish, Farrell and Farrell, Side by Side:  Spanish and English Grammar (Passport Books); for preparation in German, Hubert Jannach, German for Reading Knowledge (Van Norstrand), and Karl A. Schmidt, Easy Ways to Enlarge Your German Vocabulary (Dorr Publications); for preparation in French, Edward Stack, Reading French in the Arts and Sciences (Houghton-Mifflin); and Karl Sandberg and Eddison Tatham, French for Reading (Prentice-Hall).  The College Outline Series publishes French Grammar, German Grammar, and Spanish Grammar, which take a “programmed” approach to learning and recognizing grammatical forms. Flash cards can also be helpful.  Most of these resources are available in the Rand bookstore.



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