Language Assessment Test


fsi, foreign service institute, language assessment, language placement test, learning spanish, rosetta stone spanish, latin american spanishThis morning I took my language assessment test for Spanish class at the Foreign Service Institute. It was informal — a few minutes on the phone with one of the teaching coordinators.One of the many perks of the Foreign Service is that spouses are eligible to enroll in the same intensive language courses as their FSO husbands and wives — up to six months for State Department spouses and eight weeks for USAID spouses. It’s one of the disparities between State and AID employees and the topic of an article from April’s Foreign Service Journal: Purchasing Parity: USAID’s EFM Language Training Policy.

“USAID should be commended for its general support of Foreign Service families. The current USAID EFM language training policy is well-intentioned and reflects a step in the right direction. The policy ensures that family members can develop the basic language skills needed to engage socially with host communities abroad. Still, the policy does not help prepare them to succeed professionally at post. Also, when compared to how State supports its EFMs with language training, USAID’s budget appears to leave us a step behind.”

Usually, USAID spouses enroll in what’s called the FAST course, eight weeks of basic language that can get you up to a 1 or 1+ level (out of 5), or elementary proficiency. As a point of reference, Kail has to reach a 3, professional working proficiency, after six months of class.Since I’ve been laboring away at Rosetta Stone and Spanish children’s books, however, we were able to set up an assessment test in the hopes that I could place into a regular class at a higher level. Even though I would only be able to complete eight weeks of class as opposed to the full six months that FSOs and State Department spouses get, I think I could still request to take the language evaluation test at the end so I’d be able to show future employers that I’m a 1+ or whatever level I’d reach.Needless to say, I was a little nervous before my call today. I had been convinced that I hadn’t been absorbing any of what I’ve been studying and couldn’t communicate in Spanish if my life depended on it, but Kail thinks otherwise. We’ll see if the instructor agrees.I was expecting some instructions or at least a greeting in English, but nope — we just launched right into español. I had been mentally prepared to demonstrate my understanding of ser vs. estar, past and present tense and some of the vocabulary I’ve learned studying Rosetta Stone. But the conversation went directly into what I do for work (relaciones públicas — thank you, Google Translate), describing it (haven’t really learned that vocab yet!), what I used to do (yo era una periodista) and something about politics that I didn’t understand and that signaled the end of our conversation.I think I could have done a better job steering the conversation into familiar territory but I was too nervous and too focused on trying to understand what the heck was going on. The next thing I knew he was saying in English, “All right, I think we have what we need. My supervisors will be in contact with you.”I’m still a little worried about jumping into a class with 99% of my Spanish background based on Rosetta Stone. As I’ve written before, I think Rosetta Stone has its benefits, but the lack of structure, rule-explaining and verb-by-verb, tense-by-tense explanations doesn’t fit with my learning style. But given that I took several years of textbook-based French in high school and college and can barely speak or understand a word today, maybe that’s a good thing.In the meantime, I do need to cover some basics before I start class: the alphabet, for one. I’m looking forward to my first day of school on July 2, whatever level it is!

Published by La Vie Overseas

I'm Natasha -- writer, runner and wife to a Foreign Service Officer with USAID. Current location: Frankfurt, Germany.

7 thoughts on “Language Assessment Test

  1. You’re lucky that you’re getting language training. Although I probably wouldn’t have done it even if I could have, since I was working, we were told that USAID wouldn’t pay for it… even though we had documentation saying that they would. It seems like when it comes to spouses, AID is inconsistent. Also, after your first post, good luck getting future language training 🙂


    1. Did you have any Spanish background prior to moving to El Salvador? Yeah this whole process has been very informal/loosely based on some guidelines that are unknown to us. I don’t even know that I’m IN language — we think I am but I haven’t gotten a piece of paper or other documentation saying so. Either way, I’m leaving my job at the end of the month, so I’ll either be in class or have a lot more free time to study on my own …


  2. I’ve only done Thai. And we both did the fast course. I’m sure you’ll do great. FSI is so amazing I know they will place you wherever they think you will benefit the most. Mientras tanto, continua leyendo y practicando! Saludos!


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