Page 9 - Foreign Service Journal - September 2013

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should weigh heavily on the plus side of
the scale.
I’ve been a sporadic reader of
over the years, often wishing it
were up to the challenge of covering the
big issues and elevating the caliber of
the Foreign Service. Now it is.
Harry Montgomery
FSO, retired
Williamstown, Mass.
We Need Smarter
Language Learning
I disagree with Daniel Hirsch’s May
2013 AFSA State Vice President’s col-
umn, “All Overseas Positions Should Be
Language Designated.” Instead, let us
take a good look at the current language
system before contemplating its expan-
First, let’s concentrate our limited
resources on the critically needed
languages for posts in countries where
English profciency is not nearly uni-
versal. Recently, a colleague of mine
worked hard for 10 months to learn a
difcult Scandinavian language, fnally
achieving the vaunted 3/3. At his very
frst meeting in-country, he greeted his
new contacts in their native tongue,
only to be told: “Tank you for learning
our language. Now I think it will be bet-
ter if we continue in English.” What an
embarrassing waste of time and money!
For many new entrants, the Foreign
Service is a second career. With only a
few short years before retirement, time
spent studying languages could elimi-
nate a tour or two for them. And as for
those of us with school-aged children,
transfers involving language study can
mean sending our kids to three schools
in three years, which is hugely disrup-
tive to family life.
Equally important is how we are
learning languages. Te only true way to
fuency in a foreign language is immer-
sion. Other U.S. government agencies,
like the Peace Corps and the U.S. Navy,
employ that approach for their foreign
area ofcers. So why does the premier
foreign afairs agency continue to send
students to learn these languages in
Northern Virginia?
Our in-country language programs
are haphazard or actively discouraged.
If security or other concerns preclude
in-country language instruction, then
let’s at least reform the exam, which is
currently centered on abstract topics
like nuclear nonproliferation and global
Instead, focus on testing practical
skills. For a consular job, how about a
series of mock visa interviews? For a
public afairs job, how about a mock
press briefng? Ten supervisors would
know their ofcers are ready linguisti-
cally for the job.
Foreign language skills are abso-
lutely vital to the State Department and
other foreign afairs agencies. So let us
be good stewards of taxpayer money,
and our own time, by examining which
languages we should be learning—and
the best methods for teaching and test-
ing them.
Scott Driskel
Consulate General Dhahran
A Sad Commentary
I watched retired Ambassador
Tomas Pickering appear on “Face the
Nation” this summer to defend the
report issued by the Benghazi Account-
ability Review Board, which he had
co-chaired. As a retired member of
the Foreign Service, I felt betrayed.
How could “one of our own” defect all
responsibility for Benghazi away from
all higher-echelon Department of State
executives? Who else in Foggy Bottom is
I am saddened that even with the
Operations Center relaying the informa-
tion that Ambassador Chris Stevens and
his fellow Americans were under attack,
the department could not muster even a
small response from somewhere.
Former Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton’s dismissive comment
at a Senate hearing—“What diference
does it make now?”—seems to refect
the thinking of all higher-ups at the
department, revealing how State actu-
ally functions.
Where else could you fnd such a
perfect storm of long tenure, handsome
compensation and zero responsibility?
What a sad commentary.
Alice C. Hogan
FSO, retired
San Francisco, Calif.
Keep It Simple!
At times, large organizations sufer
lapses in internal coordination among
their various parts. Tat’s fairly clear
and simple.
Regrettably, the following sentence
from former AFSA President Susan
Johnson’s June President’s Views
column is neither clear nor simple:
“Institutional dysfunction often besets
several inextricably linked dimensions
of an organic system, organization or
I mean no disrespect to Ms. Johnson,
but the average citizen or member of
Congress, no matter how well edu-
cated, might well view this arcane and
somewhat redundant formulation as
obfuscation intended to cover up the
problems within the State Department
that led to the disastrous Benghazi
Te clearer and simpler the language