Foreign Languages and the Foreign Service

In a Washington Post article (April 8, 2010), Joe Davidson wrote about the lack of foreign language training within the foreign service.  In a discussion with Davidson, Negroponte, who served as the first director of national intelligence, said “There is no substitute for recruting, training, deploying, retaining and retraining” officers in languages and geography so they “develop the contacts, the knowledge, the insight, the local and area expertise” that they need to develop America’s foreign policy.  The problem is that not enough service officers are proficient in languages they need to know.  According to the article, almost one-third “of officers in all worldwide language-designated positions did not meet both the foreign language speaking and reading proficiency requirements for their positions, up slightly from 29 percent in 2005. . . . About 40 percent of officers in the Near East, South and Central Asia, China and places where Arabic is spoken are language-deficient.”  Even worse, 57 percent of officers lack sufficient language skills in Iraq and 73 percent in Afghanistan.  How is the US supposed to gather correct intelligence and help the population of foreign countries if their operatives can’t speak, read or write another language?!  

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