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View Diary: Idiocy at the State Department (85 comments)

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    I also have an acquaintance who works for the State Department, and has worked in a number of overseas posts, most recently, a year in Kabul, Afghanistan (one of those difficult assignments that people get rotated through).  Prior to this she received a year of training, including Dari, and I think maybe also some Pashtu (2 languages of Afghanistan).   I'm not sure how much fluency this produced, but there was definitely some knowledge, and an attempt. In addition, my friend also knows Indonesian, Korean, and Japanese, 3 other countries they've worked in. I know they're very fluent in at least one of these.  There are of course exceptions, for instance when ambassadorships are given out as political rewards (like for instance I believe Caroline Kennedy is being given the ambassadorship to Japan).

    We're well represented by my friend, a very intelligent and capable person from what I know, and I'm proud to have them representing us.

    I will also say one other thing from personal experience about use of English: I once took a foreign language course myself, overseas.  Just a short 2 week intensive course with the Goethe Institut in Germany. My classmates were also all foreigners, from all over the world.  I had classmates from Japan, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, Hungary, Turkey, Greece, Russia, England, Scotland, and possibly a few others that I don't remember.  And one other "American", a Taiwanese immigrant who spoke English with a foreign accent.   The thing that struck me most about this course is that every one of these students spoke English, almost all of them quite fluently. A couple of them remarked to me that I was very lucky to know English as a native language, because it's so universally used and useful to know. Outside class, my classmates generally conversed in English (which disappointed me actually, since this wasn't helping me to learn the language I was there to learn).  Classroom instruction also used English for explanations of the language I was studying.  

    English really has become nearly the universal 2nd language of the world, and is commonly used when 2 people who don't have a common language want to communicate.  I've had an Italian person in Germany looking for directions asking me in broken English if I spoke English (assuming I might be a German who spoke English, I presume). Things are often labeled in English as a 2nd language, sometimes even only in English. I remarked to a German friend that the radio buttons in his German car, with a German radio, were labeled only in English. He said that's become common, instead of having things labeled in lots of different languages, that everyone just learns the English words for things like On/Off, Volume, Tuning, etc.  So I don't think it's necessarily out of place for the State dept. to be conducting some of its foreign policy in English.

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