Language Exams

Columbia's graduate program in music follows a "rule of three" when assessing language capability. All students, including those transferring from other universities, are required to demonstrate competence in reading and translating two languages other than their native tongue. Thus, if English is your native language, you must pass examinations in two other languages. In Historical Musicology and Music Theory, German and French are strongly recommended. If your native language is not English and you have demonstrated competency in English with an adequate TOEFL score (or equivalent) upon entering Columbia and in coursework here, then you will be deemed competent in two languages (your own and English), and you will need to pass one additional language exam. We will not test you separately in English.

If your eventual dissertation area requires competency in a language or languages other than your native language or the ones in which you have passed exams, the faculty reserves the right to test competence in the relevant languages. The Ethnomusicology area requires an examination for oral fluency for any student who plans to conduct field research in any language other than his/her native language.

Departmental language examinations are administered by the Language Exam Coordinator during the registration periods of both fall and spring semesters, and again in early May. Several weeks prior to the exam, students will be informed about the time and place, and provided with instructions for signing up. The examinations consist of passages of moderate length and difficulty -- approximately 300-400 words of the difficulty one would encounter in ordinary use of these languages for research purposes -- to be translated into idiomatic English. The use of a dictionary is permitted, but not a book of grammar.

The quality and accuracy of the translation is more important than completion of the passage. You are advised to prepare by refreshing your knowledge of the basic structure of the language, and by practicing on passages from such sources as periodical articles, encyclopedia entries, treatises, biographies, and memoirs. Each exam is one hour long. Non-native speakers of English may have an extra half hour to complete the exam.

The Department will not accept a passing grade from a language course taken either at Columbia or another institution, or an affidavit from an instructor, in lieu of the departmental exam.  We believe that every graduate student in music should be able to display basic competency in translating a passage that is specifically about music.  Working with the Language Exam Coordinator, departmental faculty will select the passages and evaluate the translations in all languages in which they are competent (including common European languages and Latin).  For languages in which the faculty does not have expertise, the Language Exam Coordinator will ask a colleague in the relevant Columbia department to select a passage and then evaluate the translation.  All questions about language examination policies and procedures should be directed to the Language Exam Coordinator and, if coming from a student, copied in to the area advisor.