The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2005

J U LY- A U G U S T 2 0 0 5 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 49 F O C U S O N F S I / F S T R A I N I N G L ANGUAGE L EARNING 101 he sun begins to set, paint- ing the desert sky a purple-pink of unmatched beauty. This is the life , you think, as you speed down the desert- ed roadway, ragtop down, on your way to the next big adventure. But suddenly you hear a ping and a pop, and the car slows and then stops. You check the trunk for the tools you thought you packed, but they’re not there. Darkness is coming fast. The temperature drops and some sort of nocturnal creature lets loose a B horror movie howl. You’re alone. Frustrated. Wor- ried. Maybe even scared. And you don’t know what to do to get back your control. Although a bit melodramatic, the feelings the lonely driver endures on the empty highway mirror the mind-set many people experience when traveling through language class — especially if it’s their first time down this road. After years of success in school or a career, people face a challenge that seems insuperable. The tools of study that worked in the past do not help this time around. No one seems able to offer assistance. Students feel unsure what to do, or how to do it, to get back to a cruising speed in learning. All of this not only takes a toll on the ego but can also have real career ramifications. As one former “hard language” student said, “I wasn’t just worried about how this would affect my career. I needed this language to keep my job — I wasn’t going to have a career if I didn’t pull this off.” Learning something new, feeling as if you’re not doing as well as your peers, and wondering how this will affect your job all contribute to transforming a student from a seasoned officer or spectacular spouse into a stress ball beyond recognition. What are the stress- ball symptoms? Small annoyances become large issues: you find yourself irritated by how your classmates breathe, the way the guard asks to see your ID, how your kids set the table for dinner. You pull away from groups because you don’t want to discuss how you’re feeling about class — something especially hard for those Myers-Briggs extroverts, who find comfort and solace in being around others. You lose interest in your T W HILE SOME PEOPLE FIND LANGUAGE LEARNING A JOY AND A F OREIGN S ERVICE PERK , OTHERS WILL ALWAYS FIND IT A LONG , HARD SLOG . B Y R OBIN H OLZHAUER Find out right away what kind of language learner you are.