One of the pieces of advice I give most frequently to those applying to Notre Dame in particular and Ph.D programs in general is that they ought to have as solid of a foundation as possible with their languages before applying. The Early Christian Studies program at ND afforded us a good deal of flexibility and emphasized the necessity of language work. But not only are the ancient languages incredibly important, but the modern research ones as well.
I’ve met some people who study just enough to pass a language exam and then forget the language almost entirely. It’s understandable – you get to the Ph.D program, you’re inundated with courses, you’re trying to keep up your ancient languages – when are you supposed to fit in French and German? If you’re reading this and not yet in a Ph.D program, start now. If you’re in a Ph.D program, start now.
One thing I’ve found incredibly helpful is Duolingo.com. It’s fun, it’s simple, and it will help you practice your languages. My suggestion is to spend 15-30 mins a day on each language. After getting to the more advanced stages, start reading articles in French and German journals in your field. Start learning the field-specific vocab.If you can keep up your German and French and actually use it to read modern scholarship, you will be way ahead of the pack.