Tag Archives: languages

Tut tut Tuttle

We had such ambitions…

When Mandarin Express ended, Chad and I didn’t want to loose any of the progress we’d made over those four months. Since Mandarin Express focused primarily on speaking, and the specter of learning a few thousand Chinese characters loomed before us we decided to do a little study ahead. Looking around a different character books (and reading Amazon reviews) lead us to Tuttle Learning Chinese Characters, Vol. 1: A Revolutionary New Way to Learn and Remember the 800 Most Basic Chinese Characters

We could TOTALLY learn 800 characters in four months! That’s 200 characters a month, a mere 50 characters a week, or just 10 characters a day! Only a lazy bum wouldn’t be able to do 10 characters a day! 2/2 in Mandarin in 36 weeks here I come!

Yeah, so we’re lazy bums. We got through the first 80 characters before ignoring the book completely. But that’s no fault of the book. It has amusing stories to help you remember the meaning and pronunciation of each character, and was excellent at teaching stroke order for writing. Oh yes, we wrote. We even bought awesome college ruled with graph paper notebooks to practice writing in. See!

Chinese writing practice...doomed from the start
You can print your own doane pages for free too!

Ah well, it wasn’t all for naught. We started at FSI with more than 50 characters under our belt, which gave us time to work on other things, like our tones, which, as our teachers tell us, we have to focus on/concentrate/pay attention to all. of. the. time.

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Sneaking up on Mandarin (the language)

Ha! I’m back and writing again – a few more weeks of this and it’ll either be a habit, or I won’t write again for another eight months… Anyway, I wanted to share how Chad and I got ready to study Mandarin at FSI. As the reality of moving to Shanghai in 2012 set in, the more anxious we got about our ability to learn the language to some semblance of proficiency. Since we had plenty of time, I started to look into classes we could take before going to FSI.

I looked at NOVA community college, the USDA graduate school, and private language schools. All of these options were either poorly timed for us, too far away, or too expensive. As our goal was just to get some familiarity with the language, we didn’t want to spend too much time or money. So I looked at our options through FSI. Early morning Chinese didn’t appeal to either of us, so one of the online options would be the best. I’d heard some not so great stuff about the software available through FSI, but then I saw a class called Mandarin Express. Continue reading

Language Phone Test Recap

I’ll get this out of the way now: my language test was pretty brutal, but I still managed to pass.

I called 5 minutes early (mainly because I was nervous), and they had me call back at my appointed time instead. Oh well, so much for getting the test out of the way a bit sooner. When I called back someone took my information to confirm my identity, then transfered me to a test room, where a woman told me what to expect for the test.
Continue reading

Passed my language phone test!

Since I can’t run down the halls of my office shouting “I passed! I passed,” I’m just going to have to do it on the Internet. To do:

Gmail chat to my husband Done
Tweet Done
Facebook Check
Website Double Check!

Now I have to write a short email to Naomi my Hebrew teacher. It’s going to take a while because while I can speak Hebrew well enough to pass the phone test, I write (and read) like a first grader. Maybe I should just call her instead.


Hebrew Phone Test Update

First things first. I don’t know if I passed. I emailed my HR person at State and she told me that she won’t get my score until next week at the earliest. If there are any crossed fingers for me out there, keep it up!

I’ve decided to delay doing a full recap until I know for certain if I passed or not. The test was rough, but it’s possible that I got the 2 I need for extra points. More to come once I get the results!

Prepping for My Language (Phone) Test

As the Consular Register grows and grows, my chances of getting ‘the call’ get smaller and smaller. Right now, my oral assessment score of 5.3, which would have gotten me an offer a year ago, has me ranked somewhere around 70 out of 100. BUT! All is not lost. As I’ve said before, passing a phone language test will add 0.17 points to my score, bringing that score up to 5.47, and my rank somewhere around 20. That is mind boggling.

On Tuesday, one week from today, I’ll be taking the phone test for Hebrew (gulp!). So I’ve been studying, I’ve been talking to Leah in Israel on the phone, I’ve been watching Rexhov Sumsum (Israeli Sesame Street) and some really depressing Israeli movies. Tangentally, Israeli movies are sooooo depressing – people are constantly dieing, ugh. I’ve also been taking a conversation class at Sixth & I downtown, and have been doing some self directed study. All of these have really helped me get my Hebrew up to a level where I think I can pass the phone test.

Lucky for me, Hebrew is considered a ‘hard’ language, and I only need to speak at a level 2 to pass. According to the government Interagency Language Roundtable speaking self assessment, I should have the proficiency to pass. The gap between level 2 and level 3 is pretty big, and I don’t think I would be able to pass.

One of the best parts of my conversation class is my wonderful teacher, Naomi McNally. She actually taught Hebrew at FSI at one point, and her husband is a retired FSO! This afternoon, she gave me a short practice phone test. While she’s familiar with the in person test at FSI, she’s a little uncertain about exactly how they’re going to test me on the phone, as the process is a little different. Still, it will be good to get her feedback after tomorrow night’s class – and maybe I will be able to fit in another practice test before next week.

So between now and then I’ll be studying, practicing, and thinking in Hebrew. Wish me luck, Internet!

Language and the Foreign Service Register

I speak a few languages, though only one really well (yes, that would be English).  However, I’ve been figuring out the best way to brush up on my current default second language because of the bonus points it would give my (low, but passing!) FSOA score.  While State says it best, I’ll summarize the best I can, with information that is current as of today (March 19, 2009).*

If you can pass 2/5 in any dialect of Arabic, you get an extra 0.5
If you can pass 2/5 in any other Critical/Super Critical Needs Language**, you get an extra 0.4
If you can pass 3/5 in any other language, you get an extra 0.17

The ‘catch’ of getting bonus language points through a critical needs language is that you have to serve in the pertinent country: once before achieving tenure, and another after. If one doesn’t pass the language phone test (did I mention it’s a phone test?), one can usually retest. Also, testing in different languages is allowed, however, we will only be allowed to receive bonus points for one.

So here’s where I have to make a decision. I have, at one point in my life, studied Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic (Egyptian). Hebrew is my strongest foreign language, I spent six months studying in Israel during college (two months intensive language study, known as an Ulpan ), and another two before I moved to DC (another Ulpan). I can understand and speak well enough to get along in a conversation, but I read and write like I’m seven years old. My ‘current affairs’ vocabulary is almost non-existent because we never talked about them. However, I can talk food and travel like nobodies business. If I were to test in Hebrew, I would have to strengthen my vocab and learn how to talk about things an FSO is expected to talk about.

I’m a better reader and writer in Spanish, and my vocabulary is a little stronger there, mainly because my formal study took me farther in the language and because I grew up in San Diego. I feel comfortable going to restaurants where English is rarely heard and ordering for my friends. However, I have a problem with Spanish. It is no longer my default second language. If I really concentrate and think carefully while forming my sentences, I can usually speak well enough to be understood. This is rare. Normally, Hebrew kicks in, especially on simple words, and my speech usually ends up being a horribly confusing amalgamation of the two language. Most people can make sense out of Spanglish. I’ve never met anyone who could decipher Spanbrew, but I bet it wouldn’t be too much of a challenge for David Broza.

Then there’s Arabic. I studied Egyptian dialect Arabic because my teacher was from Egypt. The classes were in the evening at the main campus UCSD Extension Center, and were several years ago. However, I know that if I started now, and really applied myself, I could pick up some semblance of proficiency. Languages tend to come back to me pretty easily if I have a foundation in them, and the grammatical structures, pronunciation, and some basic vocabulary, are very similar to Hebrew. They are similar enough that when I took notes in my Arabic class, I found it beneficial to do so in Hebrew. Additionally, I would not mind serving a post in Cairo – it would probably be interesting. However, continuing in Egyptian Arabic will be more challenging right now simply because I have no idea where to find a teacher. Also, this is my weakest foreign language – there is definitely the risk that I might spend all of my time focusing on this language and fail, where I could strengthen Hebrew and pass.

Right now, I’m leaning towards Hebrew. It’s my strongest foreign language and I feel most comfortable speaking it, even if my vocabulary needs work. Also, all signs are pointing towards a hiring blitz over at State (more on this later) in the next year or so, therefore, it might not matter if my score is on the lower side.

I got an online subscription to Sha’ar La’Mathil to help expand my vocabulary and my reading skills. It’s a weekly newspaper published by the Israeli Education Ministry in simple Hebrew. It’s a pretty good teaching tool, and I like that the online version has a feature that allows you to listen as someone reads one of the articles. I can always understand the article when I listen to it, but reading is painfully slow.

For the time being, I plan on taking the language test once I pass my security clearances. That should give me plenty of time to bulk up my vocabulary and practice with my Hebrew speaking friends.

* By the time you read this, this info may be outdated. Please check with State in order to be sure.

** Super Critical Needs: Arabic (Modern Standard, Egyptian, and Iraqi), Chinese (Mandarin), Dari, Farsi, Hindi, and Urdu.
Critical Needs: Arabic (forms other than Modern Standard, Egyptian, and Iraqi), Azerbaijani, Bengali, Chinese (Cantonese), Kazakh, Korean, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Nepali, Pashto, Punjabi, Russian, Tajik, Turkish, Turkmen, and Uzbek.