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!
|Took the FSOT the first
time – failed
|Signed up for the FSOT||December 18, 2014|
|Took the FSOT||February 2, 2015|
|Found out I passed FSOT||February 26, 2015|
|March 19, 2015|
|Received email stating I
|May 8, 2015|
|Studied all summer
with DC group
|Took and passed Oral
|September 10, 2015|
|Received World Wide
availability medical clearance
|October 2, 2015|
|Received Top Secret
|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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7 thoughts on “Language Training at FSI”
I’m writing an article on language learning, so I’d like to know how many minutes a class hour is.
Which of the five career tracks (cones) you selected and Why?
PD. I have done public affairs most of my career so it was a natural fit.
Could you talk about how your post is selected? Do you rank a list of locations that you would like to work? Is the location chosen before your language is selected or does the language learned depend on the post you are assigned?
Really informative post. That time line is super intimidating. Yikes. This may be a dumb question, but is passing a language test a part of every new assignment or post?
Hi Jettera, I believe it is (if English is not spoken)!
Whether or not you need to pass a language test depends on the position you are going to fill. Even at posts in countries where English is not the official language, not every position is “language designated.” Google “language designated positions” for more information.