Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Language Requirement for my degree

  1. Apr 3, 2010 #1

    I've just begun working towards a B.S. in Math, minor in Physics. I'm looking over all of the degree requirements and I have to take a 2 semester sequence of a language.

    Of these choices, what would be most beneficial?

    ~ German
    ~ Russian
    ~ Spanish

    Thanks so much!! :biggrin:
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 3, 2010 #2


    User Avatar

    If you have any inclination to go to graduate school, German or Russian could be helpful in reading papers in those languages, and some schools require that you get a reading knowledge of either German, Russian, or French. Spanish is not useful for this purpose.

    On the other hand, if you're not planning on doing anything in academia after you graduate, assuming you live in the US, then Spanish is probably the most likely to be useful to you.
  4. Apr 3, 2010 #3
    I do live in the U.S....but, I am planning on going to graduate school. So, sounds like Russian or German would be best?

    Any advice deciding between those two? Thanks! :smile:
  5. Apr 3, 2010 #4


    User Avatar

    I don't know German or Russian; I am doing French instead. The secondhand thing I can tell you is that I've heard that most Russian papers get translated into English, so it may be less useful than the other languages. Overall this matters much less than it used to; I don't know how much time mathematicians really spend reading papers in languages other than English these days, but most departments still have the language requirement.
  6. Apr 3, 2010 #5
    You also probably won't learn anywhere near enough of either language to actually read papers in only two semesters, so you may be better off just picking whichever one seems most interesting.
  7. Apr 3, 2010 #6
    One thing you might consider is the Math in Moscow program. It has a fantastic reputation as a math program, and they offer Russian language courses. I wouldn't be surprised if a single semester of Russian in Russia translates into two or three semesters of Russian in the U.S.

    Of course, studying abroad is a big decision, but it's an option to keep in mind.
  8. Apr 3, 2010 #7
    I am an undergraduate myself, so take my advice with that in mind. Information comes from countless hours of research on graduate programs and talking to multiple teachers however.

    If you are planning on attending graduate school in pure mathematics, your definitely not going to want Spanish. The graduate programs usually have some reading proficiency requirement in German, French, or Russian. Sometimes Italian is also on the list. ("Scholarly Languages") From what I've heard, the reading proficiency tests usually aren't that intense, if you know the math it can be easy to fill in the blanks. Though that will vary from school to school.

    Beyond the requirement in graduate school, the teachers I've talked to have said most academic papers are being published in English at this point anyway, so they didn't know how much merit there will be in studying a foreign language for academic purposes after a couple more years. They even suggested that graduate school programs are changing this requirement, though I wouldn't bet on that.

    If your interested in reading classical texts in mathematics, from my experience German or French might be most useful to that end.

    German is supposed to be the 2nd most widely used language on website...not sure where I got that statistic so take that with little faith.

    Hope that was some help.

    Good luck!
  9. Apr 4, 2010 #8
    Something else to keep in mind is that while you seem set on going to graduate school and all of that, you may find that its not actually something you really wanted to do as much as you thought you did. Knowing a language is that "in demand" such as Russian, Arabic or Chinese might be beneficial to you in a job hunt. There are a good amount of government jobs (and maybe private too) that like people with those language skills.

    Just something to consider.
  10. Apr 4, 2010 #9
    Wow! All great info! Thank you so much!!

    I've had my heart set on graduate school for quite a long while... It's taken a few years to just get to the point of starting undergrad - harder getting to a point where going back to school is fiscally possible in 30's.

    I find both Russian and German interesting. I have some German heritage, so that makes it interesting in that light. My hubby also has taken a little German, so I'd have someone to practice the basics with... Growing up I had Russian friends who taught me a little bit...alphabet, basic pleasantries, etc.

    This really is a tough call. Mororvia - good point about which would be useful in a U.S. job setting. Hadn't thought of that!
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook