Language training: so far, so good.

They take language teaching at FSI very seriously. We spent much of our first day of class in orientation and pre-training. The director of FSI, reminded us that the taxpayers are spending a LOT of money to give us language, and that we have a big responsibility not to waste that. She also reminded us that we will have to work hard if we want to get higher than a basic level of proficiency. Language skills are another tool that diplomats use, and the better that we can speak our target languages, the better diplomats we will be.

We also took several diagnostic tests. One was the (in)famous Modern Language Aptitude Test, affectionately referred to as the MLAT. We also took a learning style diagnosis. As someone with a background in education and applied linguistics, I participated in these tests with good-faith seriousness, but with a grain of salt. The bottom line is that the students with a positive attitude and who work hard will succeed, and those who put in a half-hearted effort will not do well, regardless of our respective aptitudes. Nevertheless, it was a good start to this long-term learning effort.

After two weeks of training, we have a good grasp of the sound system, a working vocabulary of about 200 words, and some basic grammar. The textbook is organized by function. Every chapter centers on communicative functions, like greetings, introductions, and asking for information.

At the rate we’re going, we are getting the equivalent of a college semester every three weeks or so. I am scheduled to be in language for 39 weeks. The amount of instruction that I will get works out to be more than I would get in a four-year degree program.

It’s a lot of work. My wife and I put in at least three hours of homework every night, sometimes four hours a day. That’s after five hours of class instructional time. Our brains are worn out.

Lucky for us, we don’t have the distractions of a family life. We don’t have to get kids off to school, help them with their homework, attend PTA meetings, and deal with drama at home. I take my hat off to working parents who are going through this. One of my friends is especially amazing: a single parent with two young kids, learning another difficult Asian language. she is  amazingly smart, and I know that she will do great. But it can’t be easy. I salute you: A!

It’s nice to be a student again. But this is an intense experience.


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