language training during a-100

Language Training at FSI

The Stories from the Field series continues with Rob, who was recently posted in Brazil. His first assignment! You can keep up with Rob on his website.

Rob and I actually met up a couple of times when we both lived in DC in 2017. We connected because of Path to Foreign Service, and I am excited to see him having a great start in Brazil. Also, (spoiler) congratulations on learning Portuguese! The post below explains some of what language training is all about during A-100. Rob also shares his timeline from applicant to first post.

Getting through the process of becoming an FSO is a daunting yet exciting one. The day you get the email with an offer is one that will truly change your life. Walking into A-100 the first day is an experience you will never forget. Almost something out of a movie. All of this is well written and talked about within FS circles and online.

The part less talked about and was most challenging for me was the language training. I got Brazil on Flag Day, which meant Portuguese. Everyone takes the MLAT while in A-100, and I scored a 50. I am exactly average at learning new languages. If you already have a language coming in, it’s a HUGE advantage in my view.

The class is five hours a day in the classroom, typically with three students and one instructor. You have lab time, homework, and some admin time throughout the week as well.

Lab time includes practice with a lab proctor on pronunciation and some one on one time. You can also work on a variety of programs to better your language skills. You’ll sit there with headphones on and listen, speak, and read. Technology undoubtedly helps in learning a new language. Of course studying a foreign language in the US keeps you from getting some of the cultural nuggets that come with living in the country. For that, there are many good videos on YouTube that are suggested to you by instructors, fellow students, and sometimes even colleagues who are already at post.

Admin time gives you time to catch up on the administrative and personal things of life. On top of learning a language, you will be organizing your move to post which includes plenty of phone calls, emails, and various appointments. It’s a hectic yet exciting time.

Ultimately it is on you to learn the language, get off of language probation, and get to post.

For most romance languages you need a 3/3. This rating system is defined on the State Department’s website. While it varies for the other languages depending on where you are going and what the post requires. Everyone has to have a qualifying language on his or her employee profile in order to get off of language probation.

The test is not easy. But if I can do it, so can you. All the study materials, programs, books and support you need are provided to you. In fact, I am still studying while at post because I want to get better. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is a world-class institution with some of the best instructors (FSI recently celebrated its 70th anniversary). It is your job to learn a language and it is something that you should take very seriously.

Typically once you pass your language test at FSI, it is off to post. In some cases, you’ll have other training for your job and/or cone. Typically though, the only thing keeping you from going to post is passing your language test.

Below is my timeline from start to finish!

I wish all of you nothing but the best. This career path is an awesome one. So far it has been everything I thought it would be!


Event Date
Took the FSOT the first
time – failed
Summer 2010
Signed up for the FSOT December 18, 2014
Took the FSOT February 2, 2015
Found out I passed FSOT February 26, 2015
Submitted personal
narratives (PN)
March 19, 2015
Received email stating I
passed PNs
May 8, 2015
Studied all summer
with DC group
Summer 2015
Took and passed Oral
September 10, 2015
Received World Wide
availability medical clearance
October 2, 2015
Received Top Secret
Security Clearance
March 2016
Passed final suitability March 2016
Received letter stating I
was on hiring register
April 1, 2016
Received email offering me
a slot at A-100
September 26, 2016
Begin A-100 January 9, 2017
Pass Language Test at FSI December 12, 2017
Arrive at post in Brazil December 19, 2017

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