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Language Points

I need language points. My score on the Oral Assessment was high enough to qualify me for a job, but not high enough to ensure that I will actually receive an offer of employment. The process of selecting Foreign Service officers is a pure meritocracy: at this point in the process, only those candidates who have a high enough score will get a job.

Although I can’t do anything about my OA score, I can supplement it by showing a high proficiency in a foreign language. By taking a proficiency test, candidates can supplement their score, and thus win a higher place on the registry. In addition, not all languages are equally valuable to the FS. There is a list of “Super Critical Languages.” Not surprisingly, languages on that list are those that are spoken in strategically important countries. Chinese is on that list.

Being a speaker of Chinese, I am in the position to get extra language points if I can demonstrate high enough proficiency in Chinese.

But I’m worried. My Chinese is pretty good, especially speaking and listening. However, I have never been formally assessed.

I am fortunate that in the modern world, there is no shortage of what language teachers call “realia;” artifacts of real language that can be useful for language teaching and learning. Thanks to YouTube and other websites, there are many sources of real Chinese that I can use to improve my language skills.

The Chinese that is spoken in China is probably 90-95% the same as the Chinese spoken in Taiwan, but there are some differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. Think of British English and American English. Mostly the same, but still different.

Lately I have been watching Voice of America’s Chinese news, and the evening news from Taiwan’s Public Television Service. Both are freely available on the web.

The Taiwanese news is broadcast in an accent that is familiar to me, and I since I lived in Taiwan so long, I can relate to the topics and cultural references. But that isn’t going to be enough. It’s likely that I would be posted in China, so I need to be familiar with the accent and phraseology that is used in China. More importantly and practically, the person administering the test will likely be a Mainland Chinese person, not Taiwanese Chinese, so I have to get used to the accent. Voice of America’s Chinese programming is dominated by native speakers from China, and it seems that the intended audience of its programming is people in China. So it’s a good resource.

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