Guidelines for Sinclaire Award

The American Foreign Service Association has established a Language Award Program based on a bequest by Matilda W. Sinclaire, an esteemed former member of the Foreign Service. Awards of $1,500 each are made annually for foreign affairs agency personnel who have distinguished themselves in the study of certain languages and their associated cultures.

(See table of “Sinclaire Languages” below)


Nominees must be career officers of the Foreign Service from State, USAID, the Department of Agriculture or Commerce, the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, the U.S. Agency for Global Media, or non-tenured entry-level officers. Not eligible for Sinclaire Awards are (a) native or heritage speakers of the language in question, or (b) previous Sinclaire awardees unless nominated in a new language.

Sinclaire Languages

Sinclaire Languages are languages which have proven difficult for native English speakers, and which normally require ten months or more of intensive study either through training or field experience. They are referred to as Category III ("Hard languages" with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English) and Category IV ("Super-Hard Languages" which are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers):

Category III. Weeks to achieve goal: 44 (1100 class hours)*
Albanian Estonian Icelandic Mongolian Somali Ukrainian
Amharic Farsi Kazakh Nepali Tagalog Urdu
Armenian Finnish Khmer Pashto Tajik Uzbek
Azerbaijani Georgian Kurdish Polish Tamil Vietnamese
Bengali Greek Kyrgyz Russian Telugu  
Bulgarian Hausa Lao Serbo-Croatian Thai  
Burmese Hebrew Latvian Sinhala Tibetan  
Czech Hindi Lithuanian Slovak Turkish  
Dari Hungarian Macedonian Slovenian Turkmen  

*Please note that this list is not exhaustive.

Category IV. Weeks to achieve goal: 88 (2200 class hours)
Arabic Chinese (Cantonese & Mandarin) Japanese Korean

Languages may be added or deleted from this list on the recommendation of the Dean of the School of Language Studies with the approval of the Selection Committee.


The nominee must show outstanding success in learning a Sinclaire Language as documented by an official FSI language proficiency test of Speaking and Reading. Nominees’ test scores will be confirmed by the Language Testing Unit at FSI/SLS.

The usual demonstration of outstanding success is attainment of a significantly higher score on the FSI proficiency test than usual at the end of the normal length of training or relative to the amount of training taken. Typically, a beginner who scores S-3+/R-3+ or better at the end of a 44-week Russian or 88-week Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, or Korean course might be nominated. A person who in a shorter period attained a score normally requiring a much longer period of study might be another case of outstanding success. For example, a beginner who attained a 3/3 in Turkish after 24 weeks might be nominated. Similarly, non-beginners may display outstanding success if their end-of-training proficiency is outstanding relative to the length of the training.

The learning need not take place at FSI or in any formal program. Persons may be nominated who have learned a Sinclaire Language through self-study in the field or in the U.S. Persons nominated as a result of formal training will normally have completed that training during the year of nomination, although exceptions are possible with written justification.

This award is not for foreign language proficiency attained after multiple courses and in-country usage, or for the use of a foreign language to advance U.S. policy. The Department of State’s Linguist of the Year Award (3 FAM 4832.14) recognizes those achievements.

Nomination Process

Any FSI/SLS Language Training Supervisor or Language and Culture Instructor may nominate candidates. In the field, candidates may be nominated by supervisors at the field school or other overseas training venues, and at posts, by post language officer. The nomination should include the following nomination documents:

  1. Completed Sinclaire Award Nominations form signed by the nominator and his/her immediate supervisor
  2. Evidence of enrollment, if nomination is based on formal training (in the case of FSI students, the End of Training Report DS-651)
  3. Send the completed form and any other supplementary information to AFSA at, subject line "Sinclaire Nomination."

Selection Process

Final winners are then selected by the AFSA Awards and Plaques committee, with assistance from a representative of the FSI School of Language Studies.

Award Process

The winners are chosen by the Selection Committee and notified by AFSA.

Nominating Statement

The nominating statement is written by a person who is familiar with the candidate’s accomplishments in language study, either a teacher or training supervisor, or an individual at post. It should not exceed one “8-1/2 x 11” typed page, and should address at least the following:

  • The linguistic abilities of the nominee as demonstrated at the end-of-training exam or by observation, examples:
    • Demonstrated ability to apply exceptional cross-cultural understanding
    • Ability to read between the lines
    • Extraordinary ability to communicate ideas
  • The significance of the achievement vis-à-vis the nominee’s ability, the peer group’s achievement, and the history of achievement in the language section, examples:
    • Overcame great obstacles (e.g., personal difficulties or handicaps)
    • Among the best three in this year’s class
    • Among the best five ever
  • Additionally the statement might be strengthened by inclusion of one or more of the following examples:
    • The amount and quality of effort invested
    • Spent extra hours before and after the class working on (specify activity)
    • On his/her own found community resources (specify) to use in learning the language and culture
    • Was often the most active participant in the class
    • Made an exceptional contribution (specify) to the class
  • Special circumstances of the nominee’s language learning experience, examples:
    • Achieved language proficiency while studying at post only
    • Had to design his/her own program because in-country resources were not available
    • Went out of his/her way to find native speakers to converse with
    • Persisted in using the language even when host country nationals could speak English

Documentation of achievement in more than one of these categories will strengthen a nomination.


Foreign Service Institute
School of Language Studies, Room F-4415
George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center
Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20522-4201

Pouch Address:

George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center
FSI/SLS, SA-42, F-4415
Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20522-4201