Parlez-vous français? The ins and outs of Funding for Language Training

Graduate students who conduct research on non-English speaking countries need to achieve a degree of fluency in a foreign language that will support their research. Many graduate programs require competency in one or more foreign languages. Even if your program doesn’t require this training, a language competency evaluation is part of the application package for most grants and fellowships that support overseas research. For students not from a bilingual background, mastering the content and research skills required by their discipline, along with a new language, is a pretty tall order. Luckily, there are funding sources out there to help you pay for language training, and GradFund can help you target the funding sources that will most benefit your research.

It’s important to consult with your advisor and your graduate program director about how to fit language training into your graduate career. Many students start planning language training as early as possible for a few reasons. First, it’s easier to fit early language study into your coursework phase than your dissertation stage. Doing intensive language training during the summer after your first or second year then allows you to claim that you have the language skills needed to do the research you are proposing. You can then develop the language skills further during future excursions into the field.

When you are applying for money for language training, there are a few things to keep in mind. Be realistic in terms of your starting point with the language, and where you need to be in order to accomplish your research goals. For example, if your project involves archival work in Spain, you will likely focus on programs that target Spanish reading skills and specialized vocabulary.  On the other hand, if you project involves participant observation, interviews, and ethnography in Vietnam, then you would want to target programs that emphasize conversational fluency and time in-country. As you consider the level of language competency you need in order to do the research you are proposing, there are a variety of language training programs available to you.

Along with courses you can take at the university level, there are grants and fellowships for both short-term and long-term language training:

  • One of the best ways is through short-term training.  These typically provide support for 3-6 months of time spent either in the United States or in a country where the language for intensive study of the language. Some programs also combine support for intensive language study and research.
  • Summer institutes provide classroom training in foreign languages. These are often hosted at universities across the country. Some summer institutes use a hybrid model, where 5 or 6 weeks of study in the US is followed by 5 or 6 weeks of study in country. Some institutes award Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) grants to participants to offset the price of study. If you an American citizen or national and are conducting research in an area or language considered “critical” by the US government, Critical Language Scholarships fully fund study of these languages through summer grants and travel funding.
  • If your project requires truly in-depth language study, some programs provide year-long intensive in-country programs. You may be able to find a program that will also fund pre-dissertation or dissertation research while you’re abroad.

As you prepare the application, the funders are likely to be most interested in the way that language skills will benefit your research, rather than on the research itself. Explain concretely how the program you are applying to will help you achieve the level of fluency required for your research. Keep in mind that the reviewers are unlikely to come from your specific discipline or area of study, so your application should emphasize how and why you will use the language in your research, rather than on the research itself. Clearly state why, without this language training, you will be unable to conduct the research you are proposing. Also think about how you can demonstrate a commitment to achieving a degree of fluency in the language beyond the providence of the program.

To find out more about the types of language training opportunities that are available, talk to your graduate program director, consult the Pivot database or schedule a meeting with GradFund!

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