what language will we learn?

One of the requirements for being tenured as a Foreign Service Officer is proficiency in a language other than English. This really excites me. It’s a personal goal of mine to be able to communicate intelligently in another tongue. Unfortunately, foreign languages have never come naturally to me, and although I studied four different ones in high school and college, I never advanced beyond the elementary or early intermediate level. Before the FS, I was beginning to worry that I’d never have the chance to go further.

While the FS’s language requirement is exciting, it’s also scary: what if I’m not able to achieve the necessary level? But people in the know keep telling me not to worry. There’s a big difference, they point out, between studying a language for an hour or two a few times a week, as I did in college, and the instruction I’ll receive at the Foreign Service Institute. If I’m assigned a post that requires a language I don’t yet speak, I’ll stick around in DC for up to a year, during which time language learning will be my full-time job. (If there’s room, Andy will be able to take classes too.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about language training lately, and more specifically, how it relates to my first post. Both because of the tenure requirement and because I’d genuinely like to learn a language sooner rather than later, I hope to be assigned a first post that includes language training time. I don’t have final say in the matter, of course (FSOs are public servants and must go wherever they’re most needed), but my preferences will be considered.

So, what language do I hope to learn? Something like Thai or Cambodian would be interesting — and living in Bangkok or Phnom Penh would be great — but it would probably be wiser to study a more widely spoken language that I would be able to use at various posts throughout my career.

Some good options:

French – Spoken in these countries, mostly in Africa and Europe.
Spanish – Spoken in these countries, mostly in South America, Central America and Europe.
Arabic – Spoken in these countries, mostly in North Africa and the Middle East.
Russian – Spoken in these countries, most of which were formerly part of the USSR.

If you’re interested, check out this outdated but still interesting list of where other languages are spoken.

Suggestions? Advice? Feel free to comment!

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6 Responses to what language will we learn?

  1. David L. says:

    Not saying you should choose Portuguese, but that is another language that is spoken in several countries including those in Europe, South America, Africa and southeast Asia. Of course, another benefit of Spanish is that is similar to Portuguese, or so I’ve been told.

    Also, I’d suggest waiting until you receive your post so you aren’t wasting time.

  2. Nathan says:

    Maybe you’ll get to go to Canada. How awesome would that be?

  3. Jen says:

    Definitely wait, unless you feel like teaching yourself something for fun on the side. Do not stress about learning the language. It is a full-time job, you will do nothing else, and it can actually be a more relaxed family time prior to leaving. Though I couldn’t take classes at the time (took at the Embassy once we arrived), we loved it when my husband was in language school.

    Good luck, though I have a feeling you will be just fine!

  4. Alex says:

    Oh don’t worry — I have no intention of studying until I know where I’m going! I’m just thinking about languages in preparation for bidding; that’ll be one of our most important criteria (if not THE most important).

  5. Greta says:

    All the Russian places are cold, which is no good. I would learn Portuguese – if I’m pickin’…

  6. Katie says:

    You mentioned that you were high on the register after your OA? Did you get that high without language points? I don’t speak a second language and am wondering if it’s even possible to get high on the register without the lang points? Thanks for any input!

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