Department of Demography

Language Requirements

All Ph.D. candidates in Demography must pass a foreign language exam before taking their oral qualifying examination. Since English has clearly become the dominant language of international demographic research, this language requirement should be seen as one means of encouraging all students to cultivate an international focus appropriate for anyone working in the field of Demography.

The Department follows Option 3 of Graduate Division guidelines for foreign language examinations, which requires that students demonstrate a “reading knowledge” of one language. For the Ph.D.s in Demography and in Sociology and Demography, this language must be a “major world language” other than English, defined as a language with at least 100 million speakers worldwide (including non-native speakers). In recognition of the fact that it may be difficult to know how many people speak a given language, the “100 million” rule may be interpreted loosely and yet still serve as a useful guideline.

An exception to the “100 million” rule can be made in cases where students will be using a less widely spoken language as an integral part of their dissertation research. Students can fulfill their language requirement using such a language provided that: 1) the language has a formal writing system, and 2) a person qualified to administer the exam is available.

Language exams may be administered by faculty members in the Department if they are competent in a particular language. In other cases, students may arrange to be tested in one of the foreign language departments on campus or by some other means if approved by the Graduate Advisor. The exam will normally consist of translating a passage of 300 to 500 words into English within a time limit of 90 minutes, either with or without a dictionary. The level of difficulty of the passage should be similar to what is encountered in scholarly social science research written in that language.

Standards for passing the language exam are at the discretion of the examiner but should generally adhere to the following guidelines. The translation should be well written and complete. It should not be an awkward literal rendering of the original into English. Most small errors that do not change the meaning of the text can be excused, although major faults (those that significantly distort the meaning of the passage or an individual phrase) must be minimized. At the discretion of the examiner, even one major fault could be judged to indicate a failing exam.

There are two other means of fulfilling the foreign language requirement for a qualified language: 1) a high school or university diploma where the language was the primary medium of instruction automatically fulfills the requirement; and 2) a course sequence of four semesters (or six quarters) in the language at any UC campus also fulfills the requirement. (Foreign language courses at other institutions must be validated by Graduate Division in order to qualify for this exemption. In addition, any foreign language sequence, whether taken at the University of California or elsewhere, must have been completed within four years of admission to Berkeley.)