Arabic Training, aka, Theresa has 26(ish) weeks left to achieve basic proficiency in Arabic, and is staying home today to take care of a sick baby and AARRGGHHH!!!
Like many things that the State Department does, the language program at FSI is both awesome and horrific at the same time. Awesome, because really, who can complain about being paid to learn a language for nine months? Horrific, because bureaucracies gonna bureaucrat, and FSI is just like any other State bureaucracy (or possibly worse, considering how transient their constituants are).
When I arrived at FSI to start training, I was herded into an auditorium with all of the other eager FSOs beginning language on 2/24. We were told that studying for three hours a day outside of class would, at best, make us average, and that excelling at our chosen languages would take much much more time than that. Bertrand and I turned to each other and laughed and laughed (discreetly, of course). We do live with Jasmine, after all.
The Arabic department, and a few others, have recognized that throwing adult learners into full-blown absorb-as-much-as-you-can-as-fast-as-you-can language training straight out of the gate is a bad idea. Hard to start conjugating verbs when you can’t even read the alphabet.
New Arabic speakers (those of us who know nothing at all) start out with training wheels in an four week course called “Phase One.” We learned the alphabet. We learned basic greetings. We learned some simple vocabulary. We watched a video in 15 parts about the lovelorn Sindibad and his adventures across the Arabic speaking world. And by the end, we could introduce ourselves, introduce our classmates, and ask about each other’s families.
After graduating from Phase One, our class of seven split in two, and we entered the regular language training program. We have five hours of contact time per day, plus one hour of lab time a day. And it’s brutal. But awesome. I really enjoy class time when I’m having an OK day (and not embarrassing myself, as I did with on Wednesday when I couldn’t remember ANY vocabulary from the previous day).
Bertrand and I discovered very quickly that it’s pretty much impossible to study at the house with Jasmine around. I get up bright and early (crazy early … like before 5:00 early) to catch 30 minutes before everyone else gets up. We catch a 7:00 am shuttle every day so that we can study for two hours before class starts. And after class ends, we get another hour of studying before catching the 5:40 shuttle home. I cook, Bertrand cleans, and I crash as soon as Jasmine does. It’s not ideal, but we’re both managing to keep up (barely).
All this to say, there are a lot worse things we could be during during ten months in DC, but it looks like weeknight outings are going to be few and far between for the foreseeable future.