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Q&A: Questionable language skills

Updated: May 14, 2018

Hi Christel, I work as a diplomat in a country where the main language is not English. Before I started this job, I studied the local language for 10 months full-time at FSI. However, since I arrived I feel like my speaking ability is only getting worse. I was hoping that my local colleagues would speak in their own language to me, but they rarely do. How do I ask them nicely to speak in their own language with me?


Dear Anonymous: From where I’m sitting, it’s impossible to judge your language skills. However, I have a vague feeling that perhaps your language skills may be enough to get by in general, but that you lack the confidence and/or fluency to talk about daily matters. After all, why wouldn’t your colleagues want to converse with you in their own language if you really spoke it really well? But please don’t feel hurt or let this discourage you.

There are plenty of opportunities to improve your language skills. For example, you could take lessons at the embassy. It might seem counter-intuitive to take more lessons when lessons didn’t help you reach your desired level of fluency before, but you should count your blessings – not everybody gets free language lessons, especially not on the boss’s time! Enjoy!


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