Foreign Language Training – United States Department of State

The School of Language Studies (SLS) provides language and culture training to U.S. government employees with job-related needs. It addresses all aspects of language training, from classroom instruction and distance learning, to learning consultation services and testing.

Student Orientation
Are you new to SLS or returning and need a refresher? The orientation page contains information on what to expect when you arrive on campus.

Employment and Fellowship Opportunities
For information about the different types of positions and job opportunities in SLS, please visit the Foreign Language Training Employment Opportunities page.

Learn about opportunities available through the Madeline E. Ehrman Fellowship in Second Language Acquisition for scholars whose work addresses efficient and effective second language training for adults.

 

Organizational Overview

The School of Language Studies (SLS) is divided into instructional and functional divisions.

Instructional Divisions

The following five instructional divisions provide training in over 65 languages:

  • East Asia & Pacific
  • European & African
  • Near East, Central, & South Asian
  • Romance
  • Slavic & Eurasian

Each instructional division includes a team to support students in meeting their language training goals. Members of that team include:

  • Language Training Supervisors (LTS): Language professionals who oversee training specialists, instructors, and students. The LTS is the immediate supervisor for students enrolled in the language school.
  • Training Specialists (TS): Non-supervisory staff who assist with the LTS with student development, managing language training programs, and implementing program goals.
  • Language and Culture Instructors (LCI): Native or near-native speakers who provide classroom instruction and out-of-classroom support.
Functional Divisions

In addition to the five language divisions, five functional divisions support the mission of SLS.

  • Curriculum and Staff Development (CSD) leads SLS in evidence-based innovation in language teaching, language learning and instructional technology for application in the Foreign Service use context. CSD is also committed to keeping staff engaged and current through rigorous professional development.
  • The Evaluation and Measurement Unit (EMU) helps all staff members collect and analyze information to understand how programs are performing and use evidence to inform planning and decisions.
  • Foreign Service Programs (FSP) supports language training at overseas posts through the Distance Language Learning and Post Language programs. FSP also offers the In-Language Media Practicum for members for the Foreign Service.
  • Administration is responsible for the central administrative needs of SLS, such as managing contracts and purchasing.
  • The Language Testing Unit (LTU) administers the language proficiency testing program, providing test administration oversight, testing records maintenance, and quality control. The LTU ensures that tests are valid and reliable for all examinees.

 

FSI’s Experience with Language Learning

The following language learning timelines reflect 70 years of experience in teaching languages to U.S. diplomats, and illustrate the time usually required for a student to reach “Professional Working Proficiency” in the language, or a score of “Speaking-3/Reading-3” on the Interagency Language Roundtable scale. These timelines are based on what FSI has observed as the average length of time for a student to achieve proficiency, though the actual time can vary based on a number of factors, including the language learner’s natural ability, prior linguistic experience, and time spent in the classroom.

Category I Languages: 24-30 weeks (600-750 class hours)

Languages more similar to English.

Danish (24 weeks)
Dutch (24 weeks)
French (30 weeks)

Italian (24 weeks)
Norwegian (24 weeks)
Portuguese (24 weeks)

Romanian (24 weeks)
Spanish (24 weeks)
Swedish (24 weeks)

Category II Languages: Approximately 36 weeks (900 class hours)

German
Haitian Creole
Indonesian

Malay
Swahili

Category III Languages: Approximately 44 weeks (1100 class hours)

“Hard languages” – Languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English. This list is not exhaustive.

Albanian
Amharic
Armenian

Azerbaijani
Bengali
Bulgarian

Burmese
Czech
Dari

Estonian
Farsi
Finnish

Georgian
Greek
Hebrew

Hindi
Hungarian
Icelandic

Kazakh
Khmer
Kurdish

Kyrgyz
Lao
Latvian

Lithuanian
Macedonian
Mongolian

Nepali
Polish
Russian

Serbo-Croatian
Sinhala
Slovak

Slovenian
Somali
Tagalog

Tajiki
Tamil
Telugu

Thai
Tibetan
Turkish

Turkmen
Ukrainian
Urdu

Uzbek
Vietnamese

Category IV Languages: 88 weeks (2200 class hours)

“Super-hard languages” – Languages which are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers.

Arabic
Chinese – Cantonese
Chinese – Mandarin

Japanese
Korean