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44

SEPTEMBER 2016

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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

Elijah David Bush and Todd Hughes are both FSOs and proud mem-

bers of the 177th A-100 class of 2014 who recently studied languages

at the Foreign Service Institute (and lived to tell about it).

Elijah Bush completed 44 weeks of Turkish in 2015 and

now serves in Ankara with his wife and four children.

Prior to joining the Foreign Service, he had earned a

master’s degree in teaching second languages from

Utah State University, where he taught entry-level German. He has

taught English as a second language as a volunteer overseas and

earned a Ph.D. in political science from Jacobs University in Bremen,

Germany.

Todd Hughes completed 31 weeks of Russian language

study in 2015 and now serves in Yekaterinburg with his

wife, who also studied Russian at FSI. Prior to joining

the Foreign Service, he taught French to high school stu-

dents in Jacksonville, Florida, and later earned a Ph.D. in linguistics

from the University of Florida.

T

he State Department offers excellent

opportunities to learn languages and

explore different cultures. Drawing on our

experiences both as language teachers

and as students, we offer the following

strategies for tackling new languages. In

addition to applying one or more of them,

learners may find other useful reference

points during conversations with instruc-

tors and learning consultants.

There is so much information available at FSI that students

are sometimes challenged to find and implement an elusive

ideal approach. We propose that optimal learning will happen

when multiple approaches are deliberately combined.

Our descriptions of the five learning styles below, based on

research by

British anthropologist Mary Douglas,

discuss the

strengths and limitations of each approach, and include some

practical applications. Many readers will likely recognize the

primary style of past teachers. Being aware of your preferred

learning style—as it applies to language learning—can be very

helpful.

There is always a gap between what we know and what we

do. After enjoying full-time language study at FSI, we each came

away recognizing our own shortcomings—and wished we could

go back to our former students and apologize to them, and then

do a better job. We are fortunate that most of the instructors at

FSI are ready and willing to struggle with us to find just the right

mix of effective learning techniques.

Here are some of the broad learning (and teaching) prin-

ciples we have gleaned, along with practical applications.

1. Repeat after Me…

Hierarchical learning

relies on top-down, lecture-based

instruction. Its experts and instructors come from traditions

where learners are viewed as “empty vessels” that need to be

filled. Common tactics include drills, workbooks and repetition

exercises.

The prevalence of this rule-based, traditional approach is not

FiveWays to Tackle a

New Language

Combining different language-learning methods is the best bet for success, say two

FSOs with experience as language teachers and students.

BY E L I JAH DAV I D BUSH AND TODD HUGHES

FOCUS

ON DIPLOMATIC TRADECRAFT