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,
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.
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 byBritish anthropologist Mary Douglas,
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
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…
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
The prevalence of this rule-based, traditional approach is not
FiveWays to Tackle a
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
ON DIPLOMATIC TRADECRAFT