Language Exams

Columbia's graduate program in Music requires that all students, including transfer students, demonstrate competence in reading and translating two languages. This includes the student’s native tongue and one other language. Incoming students are encouraged to take exams in their first year, if they feel prepared to do so; the language requirement must be fulfilled for the granting of the MPhil degree for HM, Theory & Ethno students (by the end of year three) and for the MA degree for Composition students (by the end of year two).

If English is the student’s native language, they must pass an examination in one language other than English. If the student’s native language is not English, their adequate TOEFL score (or equivalent) required for Columbia admission will demonstrate their English competency and exempt them from an additional language exam. There are two exceptions to the basic exam requirements: 1) For both native English-speaking students and non-native English-speaking students, a third language will be tested if the student’s area committee determines that this competency is relevant to their scholarly projects; 2) The Ethnomusicology area requires an additional examination for oral fluency for any student who plans to conduct field research in a language other than their native language.

Departmental language exams in German, French, Italian, Spanish and Latin are administered during the registration periods of both fall and spring semesters. Students who wish to be tested in any other language should contact the Foreign Language Exams Coordinator, who will assist in making these arrangements. The examinations consist of passages of moderate length and difficulty—approximately 300-400 words, of the level one would encounter in the ordinary use of these languages for music-research purposes—to be translated into idiomatic English. The use of a hard-copy dictionary is permitted, but not a grammar book. (Students should bring their own dictionary to the exam.) The quality and accuracy of the translation are more important than the completion of the passage. The exam is one hour in duration; students whose native language is not English are allowed an additional 30 minutes to finish their work.

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. The Department will accept competency in programming languages (i.e. Max, PureData, Supercollider, CSound, RTcmix, Python, C++, C, JavaScript, Lisp, Haskell), in consultation with the Foreign Language Exams Coordinator, and as demonstrated through specialized examination at the CMC.