Thursday, December 6, 2012

level of proficiency

Today was my 2nd interim progress evaluation for my Norwegian class. Technically we are supposed to be evaluated closer to the end of December, but since we'll be in Oslo starting Wednesday (!), we had our evals this week.

Before going into how I faired, a little clarity on what it means to learn a language through the State Department Foreign Service Institute (FSI). Each Foreign Service position is designated by whether it requires the host country language or not, and if so, at what level the officer needs to be at in order to do the job. For Norwegian and for almost all European languages, this is a 3 in speaking and a 3 in reading, or 3/3 in FSI slang. Now, you can argue the utility of learning a language for a country in which 99.9% of the population speaks near-perfect English, but I think not being able to understand the news or be able to function at a basic level in your hosts' language would be terrible. (Så er jeg glad og heldig å kunne lære norsk.)

Below is a handy chart that State Dept uses to classify what a 3/3 means.

Proficiency CodeSpeaking DefinitionsReading Definitions
0 - No Practical ProficiencyNo practical speaking proficiency.No practical reading proficiency.
1 - Elementary ProficiencyAble to satisfy routine travel needs and minimum courtesy requirementsAble to read some personal and place names, street signs, office and shop designations, numbers and isolated words and phrases
2 - Limited Working ProficiencyAble to satisfy routine social demands and limited work requirementsAble to read simple prose, in a form equivalent to typescript or printing, on subjects within a familiar context
3 - Minimum Professional ProficiencyAble to speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on practical, social, and professional topicsAble to read standard newspaper items addressed to the general reader, routine correspondence, reports, and technical materials in the individual's special field.
4 - Full Professional ProficiencyAble to use the language fluently and accurately on all levels pertinent to professional needs.Able to read all styles and forms of the language pertinent to professional needs.
5 - Native or Bilingual ProficiencyEquivalent to that of an educated native speaker.Equivalent to that of an educated native.


So after just 3 months of training I am happy to report that I am roughly in the 2-2+ range for speaking and 2+ for reading. All those routine social demands that need satisfying? I've got it handled. Simple prose need reading? Not a problem. The excellent news is that I'm right where I need to be in order to reach the 3/3 by the end of February, and a week in Oslo should really help with my fluency.

Also, to put the difficulty of gaining fluency in any language in perspective, I've been told the 5/5 is rarely achievable even for native speakers. I heard somewhere that less than 10% of English speakers (included us fancy pants diplomats) could get a 5/5. So there's that. My goal after 2 years in Norway would be a 3+/4, which would up my odds of a future post in Scandinavia. Yes, before my first tour I'm already plotting my return :-).

Other exciting progress this week included receiving my travel orders and finalizing my airline reservations, including a reserved spot for Ruby to travel with me on the plane. I can't believe how quick time is going by, and as excited as I am about Oslo, I'm already starting to get that sad feeling in my stomach at the thought of leaving my life that I love so much here.  

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