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18 May 2007


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Something funny about dialects that Babak's story reminded me of:

I was trying to read signs written in Korean in Yenji, Jilin Porvince, China, where there is a large Korean minority when I realized the signs made absolutely no sense. (I'm originally from Seoul, South Korea) Only when I read the smaller print in Chinese (and my Chinese skills are absolutely horrendous) and did some thinking, did the signs start making sense. I should add that the variations in Korean dialects are nothing compared to those in Arabic. Quite frankly, I'm always amazed at the people who can pick up languages in totally alien cultures without "too much" difficulty (that is, they can do any decent job at it, period.)


Back in the day, I studied Arabic at FSI in Beirut with four CIA students [I was an FSO]. My language aptitude had tested out at 75 out of a possible 80. After a year of intense studies, I tested out at 3+ Speaking, 4 Reading. I had been promised two years, which is what is required to become really good at the language---but an FSO termite in the personnel system had tricked me into the Arabic FSI program by promising more than the State Dept had to give me. I met George Kennan during this time up at Princeton---he was from my hometown of Milwaukee and he told me: "Treat the State Dept like an old whore---if you don't slap it around, it will ruin you." Truer words were never spoken.

The State Dept now ranks ARabic [and Japanese] as Class 7 languages, as opposed to Class 5 languages, because both are excruciatingly difficult to learn true fluency.

Anna in PDX (was Cairo)

Hi, I am late to this discussion but I was in the US Foreign Service and studied its 2 year Arabic immersion program - one (nine-month) year in FSI Washington, one in FSI's field school in Tunisia. There were also DOD guys at the Tunisian second year place who had done Monterey. The people who were really naturally good at language could learn Arabic in this program to a good working level (3 or 3+ - I got a 3+/4 and a military colleague got a 4/3+ and we were the only two in the course to do that). I think it was a good program as it emphasized speaking (the dialect concentrated on was mostly Syrian/Lebanese on the grounds that it was intelligible to other dialects and Egyptian was offered as well, which is what I took because I already had a grounding in it through being married to an Egyptian). Writing was not focused on, and reading was all newspaper texts on the assumption that this is mostly what FSOs need. The Army guys there (there were only 2 of them that year - this was in 94-5) spoke to me a lot about their needs and how they felt the program served them and they were very happy with it.

The FS offers 2 years only for 4 languages: Chinese, Arabic, Japanese and I think Korean. The rest of the languages including Persian/Farsi are one year.

I know the Monterey DLI is really highly regarded but I think FSI's program is also a really strong one and could easily be made even stronger.

The main costs for these programs though are taking a valuable FSO or military person out of their career for 2 years to merely learn a language and to keep paying them a full salary at the same time. It's very expensive and then the FS rotates people out of area and it seems like it is not very cost effective.

Robert Chatel

These comments are very interesting and I believe some common threads are that the younger one starts learning a foreign language the better; some languages are harder to learn than others and this often depends on what one's first or other languages are; immersion often helps but is no guarantee of learning without strong motivation or the need to survive, and even then it may not be enough to acquire real proficiency; and related to the issue of motivation it is often important that one have a strong sense of respect for the language one is trying to learn and its native speakers.

As an American living in Europe for thirty years and teaching English language and linguistics at various levels (mostly university), I have managed to acquire enough Greek to get along in both modern and classical Greek (reading with a dictionary), to work as an academic translator of Portuguese into English, and to read the Romance languages of the Northern Mediterranean and Greece comfortably, as they are used in the media. I am still at a loss in many of the dialects that persist, and these are languages that have probably experienced more levelling to a common network or educated spoken and written variety than many other languages. Several of the comments referred to this element of Arabic.

At the level of language policy, I believe the United States must make a much greater and earlier effort to expose its young people, whether citizens or immigrants, to the rainbow of languages that currently are on offer in many parts of our country, to teach them, and to teach respect for them and their speakers. Unfortunately many forces are at work that undermine this, including lack of resources, attitudes to foreign languages by both adults and immigrant children, the pressures to upgrade scientific literacy and numeracy, and the limited hours in the day for all of us.
I will apologize in advance for a long comment, but will add that I found the other comments thought-provoking and worthy of more than a quick comment.
On last thought on mutual intelligibility: linguists face the vexed question of trying to distinguish between a language and a dialect, and traditionally the definition of the former is that it is a collection of mutually intelligible dialects. Unfortunately, this is not good enough to distinguish current Spanish and Portuguese in many cases or to justify referring to Chinese as a "language," since the former are pretty much mutually intelligible at least from Spanish to Portuguese, while the latter contains dialects that are not mutually intelligible when spoken. I think Weinreich is credited with a provocative solution in his claim: a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.


"Yohan, I would be curious why you recommend against Cairo, Beirut, or Morocco. How receptive are Yemenis to Americans?"

Beirut is great for partying and the friends of mine who have studied there love it, but they learn very little Arabic because everyone an American will get to know there speaks English and French and is always trying to show off or practice their English on an anglophone. Cairo is similar though not as bad, though the main strike against it is that everyone I know who has studied there hates the city, it's waaay too crowded. Also, while the Egyptian dialect is widely understood because of the dominance of Egyptian movies, music, and television, I personally find it inelegant and many Arabs regard it as uneducated sounding(because of the large number of poor and uneducated Egyptians). Morocco is a lovely place but their "Arabic" is completely unintelligible to non-Moroccan Arabs. Moroccan colliquial is such a mash of Berber, French, Spanish, English, and regionalisms that it really is its own language. All regional variants of Arabic are different, but someone speaking Lebanese Arabic can be understood by a Jordanian or a Saudi, excepting a few vocabulary differences. The accent, while clearly identifiable, is intelligible while Moroccan can often be unintelligible.

Ordinary Yemeni people are very hospitable and have no problems with Americans. In fact, American tourist money is very much appreciated. If you stay in the capital Sanaa you should have few problems, I would advise against visiting Saada though, since they have a bit of an insurgency problem. My old Arabic professor always told us that visiting Arab police states like Syria and Yemen were much safer than the traditionally popular places like Egypt or Jordan since someone is always watching you and they eliminate anyone even remotely suspected of involvement in terrorist plots. Of course, however, your mileage may vary.


This has been a fascinating discussion, to say the least. For a while I was working in Korea on a computer project for the DoD. While I was there, I noticed two things. One was that Korean was very easy to pronounce and read, but very difficult for a Westerner to understand. (I'm gratified to note that according to that page john in the boro referred to, they agree it's one of the most difficult). The other was that there's so much to understanding a language beyond being able to translate words and sentences into that language.

On the second point, perhaps the best illustration is the use of humor. While I was there, I met a number of Koreans who had at least passable English skills. I'd say that some were even at the S3 level as described in this rating system:


They were people with whom I could have professioional-level discussions about engineering issues. Yet, to a person, they weren't able to follow my sense of humor.

Admittedly, my sense of humor is something of an acquired taste, but like most humor that isn't slapstick it's based on subtle issues of word use and context. My native English-speaking coworkers had little or no trouble picking it up, but the Koreans I worked with were at a loss. It's not that they weren't as smart as my coworkers and I, it's just that their knowledge of English and American culture wasn't deep enough to understand.

I suspect that one way you could tell a native Arabic speaker from someone who has a "professional level" knowledge of the language would be to make an Arabic pun and see who laughs and who has a puzzled expression on his face.


Colonel Lang,

Thanks for another fascinating thread.

I studied linguistics in grad school and though I don't speak Arabic, I have been fluent in around 10 languages at different times, and I'm familiar with the kinds of problems it presents. Please post this only if you think 1) it accurately describes the problems Arabic learners face, and 2) you think it might be useful in explaining those problems to those who've never studied a similar language.

Below, I've made a list things that make it very difficult and time consuming to learn a language like Arabic. While almost all languages present one or two of these problems, Arabic seems to present most of them. And when you have to confront them all at once, it is very difficult to master the language, indeed.

Phonology. These are the sounds speaker of a language makes to create words and meaning. The more similar a language is phonologically to one you already speak, the easier it is to learn. Unfortunately, if a language has a sound that your language does not contain, it takes a long time before you can distinguish it from other sounds when you hear it spoken. You also have to learn to enunciate those unfamiliar that soundin such a way that native speakers can understand you. It's really quite difficult to overcome these problems.

Orthography. Learning a new system of writing takes a while—especially when you consider things like handwriting, script variations, and so on. A further complication occurs when the writing does not phonetically represent the language. In that case, you won't know how to look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary when you hear them.

Grammar. Grammar can be a real impediment, especially if the language organizes itself logically in a different way from your language. I'm guessing that learning Arabic grammar is not merely a matter of learning verb endings, as it largely is with Spanish or French. It probably involves things like how to use numbers, ways motion is expressed, how emotions are assigned to speakers, how spatial relations are organized, how objects of verbs are handled, and so on. In addition to learning the language, you also have to learn to "think" differently. That takes time as well.

Vocabulary. Since there are almost no cognate words between Arabic and English, vocabulary at the beginning is a matter of brute force memorization.

Dialects. Dialects are probably the biggest hurdle of all. If you're an outsider, Arabic dialects are probably for all practical purposes different languages. Though native speakers can easily understand different dialects, it's not the same for those who have learned the language later. A non-native speaker, while perhaps understood by the locals, would have to learn new grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation to understand them.

When you add up all these problems, and there are probably many more besides, you end up with a language that sounds just as difficult to learn as many people commenting on this thread have found it to be.


I think Cujo359's point about humor is dead on. Understanding a "language" isn't just a matter of knowing its mechanics, but knowing what really means what. I went completely bonkers on several occasions when "translations" that are technically true don't actually make sense in one language or the other because that's just not the way locals would speak it, or when seemingly subtle differences don't make it through translations with serious consequences in interpretation (I guess the comment about the Western movie captures this point perfectly.) (Note: I don't translate professionally--but I've also seen many "professional" translations that had exactly these problems.)


I have remaining fragments of several, including Classical Hebrew, and took Tieng Vietnam from DLI in 1967-68 for thirty two weeks, followed by a year+ of practical application with the Cav. I didn't find Vietnamese difficult, but I never learned to read beyond an elementary level. I sympathize with some of the comments with regard to Arabic, including missing vowels and altered consonants.


"(1) those who got to reinforce and add to their basic language competence through daily work with the Vietnamese and (2) those who pretty much remained in all-American units with little or no interest or incentive to do anything but forget, serve out their indentured time, and go home."

I completely agree with Mr. Murray's point here. One of the problems with learning languages is that the ability to speak one's own language will be detrimental. If you practice speaking the language with locals everyday, but you speak in your own language more and on a greater variety of subjects, it stunts the learning. A student might spend a lot of time studying a language and going to class in that language, but when they relax, have real conversations, etc, it will be in their native language. This prevents a certain depth, as the mind will continue to function in the native language, and translate as needed into the target language.

I say this from my own experience. I've studied both Chinese and Spanish, both in and out of the classroom. I think Leila does have a point regarding people underestimating the ability of someone to learn a language; the teachers for all of my classes fell back on English too often (I don't think they should have said a word of English personally, except a little at the earliest levels). Especially with regards to Chinese, this was because of the assumption (amongst both the students and teachers) that it was just to hard for us to learn quickly. When I started taking more intensive classes in China (no English, you had to learn how to write all the word you studied), at first I thought it was too hard, then I just worked harder and realized I was being lazy before. Languages take a lot of work, engagement, and interest. You can't just go to a place and take a class there and expect to get good at the language.

I have also come to a similar conclusion as Mr. Murray that classes are most useful as preparation for daily conversations. I learned more Spanish in one month working in Ecuador (as well as a few days working in Venezuela) among people that spoke just about no English and having an Ecuadorian girlfriend than I did in 3 years of classes and trying to practice with my family. If you're making plans with someone to meet them or getting directions from them on how to do your job, and the person can not speak English, you learn fast - you have to. The problem is if you can fall back on English, you will for important things and difficult conversation topics.

In two months I went from knowing a couple of words, to being able to stumble through a conversation, to being conversational. And this was not even immersion; the first month I didn't speak Spanish much outside of the classroom and a few situations; the second one, I would speak to my relatives and watch TV in English (again, me being lazy). With Chinese I never got as much constant exposure, due to my girlfriend being a westerner, being in a class full of foreigners (meaning most of the people I met were non-natives), and being at a university (most students knew at least some English). Still, I noticed how much of a difference it made conversing with friends that would only speak Chinese, or talking to workers/cab drivers that didn't speak any English (also better conversations; unlike most students, cab drivers/workers were fairly open about their thoughts on America/Mao/Iraq etc.).

If I'm remembering this correctly, someone told me a few years back about a friend of theirs (pretty sure they were military, maybe special forces?) who had a full immersion Spanish course where they were dropped somewhere in South America, and they couldn't speak a word of English for a month (I met a girl in China who was taking a similar "no English allowed" course). Have you heard about this? Do you have any thoughts on it? It seems like it would be the best way to train people.

Chris Marlowe

Having lived some time in California, I draw some comfort from the fact that I would run into different languages everyday at the local market. I'd hear Korean, Taiwanese, Mandarin, Shanghainese, Vietnamese and Spanish, just to name a few. As a general rule, I feel that younger Californians are much more comfortable with people who are not "like them", and embrace people of all backgrounds and cultures.

Most of the rest of the US though, especially the Midwest and South, are not there yet.

The Chinese government is now floating a proposal to make English one of the two official languages of the country, along with Mandarin. The thinking is that in order to make China a modern global country, English is a necessity. (I think that the Chinese are also looking over their shoulder at India, where English is an official language.) The plan calls for the importation of 25M native speakers of English annually to teach in the schools. If a decision is made, it is believed that it would be announced around the time of the Olympics.

It would be interesting to have 1.5B more English speakers. I just hope that Americans don't think that the Chinese will be any less Chinese, and more American, just because they spoke English.

Chris Marlowe

Some years ago, at a diplomatic cocktail reception, I chatted with a retired American diplomat about using more minority members for their local language skills and knowledge.

He said "We can't do that."

I asked "Why?"

"More often than not, they don't like what we do in their countries. Then it becomes a security issue."

"Then how about having mainstream Americans spending time with the local people to learn the language intensively?"

"Can't do that either. Then the Americans wouldn't like what we do to the country either and someone smart would figure out our BS. Then the whole country (US) would find out what our real agenda is if someone talked to the media. We're supposed to be the good guys, you know?"

"So you really don't want to know other languages?"

"Not really.We do what we do and that's it. You know the British phrase 'Go native', haven't you?"

It was a short but very enlightening conversation; it reminded me of something out of a Graham Greene novel.


Have always been interested in the true sounds of language and consonant shifts.

For example "Julius Caesar" is pronounced Yulius Kaisaar in classical Latin and a lot of our words of Latin derivation are grossly mispronounced. Jesus should be Ya-seus. Closer to the Hebrew Ya-souhou, Joshua)

Similarly Arabic has no P sound but Hebrew, an ancient Phoencian dialect did. The "Farsi" which has been under discussion here is an Arabic rendition. In Iran, it would be "Parsi." I often use the phrase I learned in Latin I for the Persians, "Persicos." Or the French for Iraq, "Irak," b/c that's the way Dumbya pronounces it. Actually, I think Iraq has the Ayin for "I," and Baghdad has the Ghain for gh. Ayin also means eye. The Phoenicians when they invented the phonetic alphabet drew a circle for this symbol which is the ancestor of our "o."

Leila A.

Chris Marlowe's anecdote about the diplomat is enlightening. Wonder how true it is. It certainly confirms my suspicions about the American gov't and its Arabic mission.

Didn't Dubya fire a bunch of State Dept. Arabists because they were "too sympathetic to the ARabs?"

That's the problem. If you actually understand a culture, you have to respect it and its people, and you can't just blithely bomb the hell out of its capital and populace without some remorse.

Arabs have been accusing me of being too sympathetic to Israel all of my life, for similar reasons. I grew up in the USA with Jewish friends, I studied violin with Jewish teachers, read Anne Frank and accounts of the Holocaust, played Mendelsohn, read I.B. Singer and Isaac Babel. Lived on the Lower East Side for a while and acquired plenty of Yiddish and a taste for borscht, plus a love for the Yiddish history of that neighborhood. However angry I might be at the State of Israel and its supporters, I just can't extend my anger to Jews, Judaism, or Jewish culture. (Or Israelis and Israeli culture) THey are human beings, too. I guess I've "gone native." Or become "brainwashed by the Zionist media," you take your pick.

Going native, indeed. Going human is what I call it.

Kevin Rooney

Thank you for the explanation. I have filed it away for when I have the opportunity to act on it.
Especially where to do in Yemen and where not.
Just based on Morocco's history - being political separate from the rest of the Islamic world so much of the time, I could imagine its Arabic being quite different.
What you say about police states is so often true. As long as you do not run afoul of the state, you can often be quite safe. The Soviet Union was far safer than Russia is.


Fascinated by agglutination, the way words are strung together to form monster words. I'm sure i haven't used the proper technical word. In German it's par for the course- words such as oberwerhkommando.

But sometimes it's done for other languages by force making names harder to understand or pronounce. Marjaoun is a town in Southern Lebanon. Marj 'Ayin. makes perfect sense- field of springs. That would be the best transliteration.

Ahmadi Nejad, the Iranian president is always transliterated as Ahmadinejad making his name a mouthful. And then his remarks on Israel are twisted through creative translation to make him a devil with horns and another cause for war.

Remarks about Israel


During the Second World War and part of the Cold War, the British armed forces had a very good language program which screened National Servicemen for aptitude, pulled the top whatever per cent, and put them through the JSSL (Joint Services School for Linguists), which had developed full-immersion courses for WW2.

Not only did it provide a lot of Russian speakers for various intelligence tasks quickly, it also produced a surprising number of good writers.

I think there's a big difference between the learning you need if you're going to converse in formal situations, read official documents, interpret intelligence intercepts, and write for target language speakers (we could call that the specialist level) and the learning you need to communicate in practice (we could call it the barefoot linguist level).

Abu Sinan

Wow, I didn't realise my off the cuff comments would start such a good line of comments.

A few comments on what I have read. Someone asked what I was talking about when I mentioned rating scales. The ability to speak a foreign language is based on a rating scale, with 1 being beginning level and 5 being a native speaker.

In the case of Arabic it is pretty rare for a non native speaker to get to level four. Basically a level four, speaking wise, would be someone who could speak to a large group of people or who was at a level where they could confidently debate issues in a panel discussion.

There might be a better explanation of how the ratings system works online, I don't know. Level 5 is a native level speaker and I have not met any non native speaker gain a level 5 in Arabic, although it is much more common in languages like Spanish and German.

My wife's father was a Saudi military diplomat here at the Saudi Embassy for 25 years. The closest Westerner I have seen to a level 5 Arabic speaker would be the Western wife of the current Cultural Minister here at the Saudi Cultural Mission.

She met her husband, the cultural minister, at school here in the West. She took college level Arabic and lived in Saudi for 20 years. Her Arabic is very good, but even I can tell she is not a native speaker. But after living 20 years in Riyadh, I think she is as close as it comes.

Someone mentioned the diacritical marks, and lack there of, in most texts. This is very true. Outside of books on learning Arabic, The Qur'an, and a small amount of religious texts, you will not find these all important marks.

As the poster also pointed out, these marks are also used as short vowels, so if you do not already know the written word you are trying to read, this can make it really hard. However, Arabic does have one thing that can help is such circumstances. Arabic words are based on root words, usually consisting of three consonants. So if you are aware of the root word, you can pretty well suss out the meaning of the word, even if in a written case you cannot know exactly how to pronounce it.

Example, the root k-t-b, has a basic meaning of to write. So you get "kataba=he wrote" "katabat=she wrote" "yaktubu he writes". Then, if you are aware of the root word and other associated meanings it can help you figure out words like "katib=writer" "maktab=office" or "kutub=books". So if you are reading something and do not know the exact word, Arabic makes it rather easy if you know other words related to the particular root of the word in question.

Arabic is hard enough, that Arabs at university level, are required to take Arabic classes all four years at university.
Someone talked about Arabs not speaking good enough English to pass as native speakers of English. I would dispute this. My wife speaks Arabic fluently with a Hijazi accent, as the Hijaz (area of Saudi Arabia) is where her family comes from. She has been here in the USA off and on since she was about five. Her English is certainly native English speaking level. I think the only way one might be able to detect the fact that English was not her first language is the way she constructs a few sentences. Like other speakers of second languages, sometimes she uses literal Arabic translations into English. Given the fact that she has no accent in her English many people wouldn't catch it. I have to say she doesn't really do this anymore as I used to call her on it when we got married, but she used to construct sentences like "Higher the volume" when talking about the radio or TV, or "close the lights". These are literal translations from Arabic as in Arabic you do tell someone to "higher" something, as in volume, or you are asked to "close the lights".

Someone also talked about dialect and the views of some dialects to Arabs. One thing you must realise is that Arabs are highly regionalised and they all seem to carry on some pet hatred of one country or another. Saudis, as a rule, tend not to like Kuwaitis or people from Qatar, many Lebanese don't like Syrians, and almost every Arab hates the Saudis. So not matter what dialect you learn you are going to run into somebody who doesn't like the way you speak.

My wife's family comes from the Hijaz, more specifically Mekkah and Jeddah. So they speak Hijazi Arabic, and that is the dialect I use and am most experienced with. However, with years of being outside of Saudi, a lot of Egyptian dialect has crept into their language use. I blame that on the domination of Egypt in many areas of Arabic media, especially TV and music. I give them a hard time about this when I hear one of them use a well known Egyptian term, because they tend not to be too fond of Egyptians. Something like "ez-zayyak".

Slang can be funny when you don't have a clue and take it literal, like the first time someone said to me "ish lonak? "(transliteration correct?). Literally it means "what colour are you". So to this I answered "ana abyad." That got a good laugh. This is a phrase used often by Kuwaitis. It is a way of asking how are you doing.

As to Yemeni Arabic, it would be very good to learn this dialect. It is very distinct and it is respected by other Arabs because it is seen as being very close to "true Arabic". Arabs are very particular about their Arabic. However, knowing Yemeni Arabic might get some strange looks and questions from people. It is strange enough for a Westerner to speak Arabic, let alone a dialect like Yemeni (of which there are several varieties of it's own) or Saudi Arabic (again with several varieties).

I have been asked before if I worked for the CIA or FBI, and they really had a hard time figuring out my Hijazi accent as most Americans who learn a particular dialect learn Egyptian, Lebanese, or even Palestinian/Jordanian (shu hi?). A Yemeni dialect would bring the same response. My co-workers, many of whom are Arabic, thought I was with the FBI or some other intelligence agency for a couple of years until a few of them ran into me at the mall with my wife and kids. I guess they didn't figure the FBI would give me children to help my undercover work.

As to Farsi/Parsi, I believe it would be much easier to learn as well. It is, as someone stated before, an Indo-European language, and from listening to it, the sounds are much closer to European sounds. I think there are a good number of dialects, but I think they are much more understood by Farsi speakers as a whole than the various Arabic dialects are. I also think there are many more native Farsi speakers that would be willing to work for the US is translating roles. The majority of Iranian Americans came from Iran before and right after the Islamic revolution and tend to be very secular, often being "more American than the Americans".

I speak German as well as Arabic, although I admit my German is a bit rusty from lack of use. The last time I was there was in 2001. Use of a language is critical. I think this is what makes many Westerners who speak Arabic "suspect" and would cause many of them to have a hard time getting a clearance. Most people who care enough about Arabic to put in the years of study and travel to become fluent would naturally gain something of a sympathy with Arabs, not to mention the travel needed in the Middle East and the associates you might make, wouldn't look good on an application. There are some great schools in Syria, Yemen and the like, but if you spend two years in one of these spots good luck on a top secret clearance.

Many people who speak Arabic would have no problem working with the US government in tracking down al-Qaeda and the like, but the US makes the "war on terror" too broad of a brushstroke. There are countless people who speak Arabic who would work night and day against bin Laden, but when you throw in groups like Hamas and Hizb'Allah into the mix they would not agree. I have had this discussion with other Arabic speakers, native and non native, and it is clear that you could not refuse to work against Hamas and Hizb'Allah but still work against al-Qaeda, so they choose not to work at all.

Most Arabs, Arabic speakers and Muslims for that matter, would not lump al-Qaeda, Hizb'Allah and Hamas together. THAT is, in my mind, why more Arabs do not work for the US government. My sister in law, fluent in both English and Arabic and working on her Masters as a Linguist made that very point to me. She'd love to work against bin Laden and al-Qaeda, but would refuse to work against Hamas. She had thought about applying for the FBI, but when she thought about it that way, she decided not to. As long as that grouping is kept, improperly in my mind, there will only be a very limited number of native speaking Arabs willing to work for the US government.

Clifford Kiracofe

A Finnish speaking FSO for Baghdad. From Wayne Madsen's blog:

May 22, 2007 -- Exiling U.S. diplomats to Iraq. Helsinki's newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, is reporting that William Davnie, the Press and Cultural Affairs Counselor at the United States Embassy in Helsinki, was transferred from Finland to Iraq in early April after he had policy differences with U.S. ambassador Marilyn Ware. Davnie speaks fluent Finnish, a language for which he will find little use in Baghdad.

WMR reported on Ware on Sept. 1, 2006: "One of the biggest wastes of money has been on the security upgrade to the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, Finland. The embassy, located in the tranquil harbor area of Helsinki and facing picture post card views of ferries connecting Helsinki to Stockholm and yacht basins, has a double security fence complete with 360 degree pan, zoom, and tilt cameras disguised as street lamps. No other embassy in Helsinki, including the Russian and British embassies have any security so elaborate. Not surprisingly, the U.S. ambassador to Finland is a big time corporate donor to the GOP -- Marilyn Ware, the former Chairman of American Water Works Company, a firm that is attempting to privatize public sector water utilities around the world. A neo-con, Ware is an alumnus of the International Republican Institute and the American Enterprise Institute. She also was co-chair of Tom Ridge's gubernatorial campaign. Ware can rest assured that with the millions spent on the security at her embassy in Helsinki, she does not have to worry about attacks by passing Finnish, Swedish, or Estonian ferry passengers."

Marilyn Ware: Neo-con shrew exiles dissenting U.S. diplomat in Finland to Iraq

With Ware's neo-con links, it is obvious why William Davnie now finds himself on the neo-con Nazis' American version of Hitler's "Eastern Front."

Was the al-Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad built by a Finnish company?


The cesspit is apparently bottomless:

"Al Hurra television, the U.S. government's $63 million-a-year effort at public diplomacy broadcasting in the Middle East, is run by executives and officials who cannot speak Arabic ... That might explain why critics say the service has recently been caught broadcasting terrorist messages, including an hour-long tirade on the importance of anti-Jewish violence, among other questionable pieces."


On the other hand, this sort of thing might at least improve its ratings in the ME.


I am also learning Chinese by a special and innovative service in http://www.hellomandarin.com and http://www.hellomandarin.com/courses/course.html . I like to learn in live class with teacehrs from Beijing directly. I also like to practice Chinese with volunteers freely everyday http://www.hellomandarin.com/connectingchina . Watching Chinese learning TV on CLTV http://cltv.hellomandarin.com is also interesting and helpful to practice listening and learn more about Chinese culture.


A truly fascinating thread. Thank you.

Abu Sinan -- the last two paragraphs of your 21 May 07 entry is pure gold, as it reveals the great blind spot of present US policymakers. You write…“Many people who speak Arabic would have no problem working with the US government in tracking down al-Qaeda and the like, but the US makes the "war on terror" too broad of a brushstroke…Most Arabs, Arabic speakers and Muslims for that matter, would not lump al-Qaeda, Hizb'Allah and Hamas together. THAT is, in my mind, why more Arabs do not work for the US government.”

In my opinion, your words should headline a policy paper. Your observation precisely explains how the USG has failed miserably to follow the golden rule described in Chapter 15 of Fall’s Street without Joy: to win, the USM and the people must emerge on the same side of the struggle.

The USG ignores your observations at great peril.


I realize that almost no one will read this because the comments stopped quite a while ago, but I'm going to say it anyway. It seems to me that much of the problem with learning a foreign language lies in the way it is taught. My experience here is with a Arabic class taught in a college, so maybe things are different in the government classes.

But the obvious way to proceed is to start with the most commonly used words and proceed gradually to less common words. However, this is violated all the time by my textbook. We learned the term "United Nations" in the first chapter. WHY?

We learned the verb "to want" at the end of the first year, though that is something we should have learned the first day. We learned the verb "to be cut off" before we learned "to take." Why? WHY? It is utter madness.

And it's not just my college class. Anyone who has had a couple years of high-school Spanish should be able to order a meal in a restaurant in Mexico, but it seems that they cannot do that. WHY?

I could go on and on about this, but let this do for now.


I would like to attend a school/program, modeled after The Defense Language Institute, for Arabic. I am a civilian, an Army vet, 41, and highly motivated. I'm looking for an immersion program that'll help me reach fluency.

Thanks for any responses.


I have been thinking about doing those Arabic games for learning. I believe they are at http://www.creativeeducationandpublishing.com/store/index.php?route=product/category&path=66. I think it's great to learn more languages.

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