I love it when you speak in Language X to me
June 21, 2010 5:47 PM   Subscribe

Are there any institutions that, like the military, CIA, Foreign Service, and Peace Corps (and, I'm sure, parallel organizations in many countries, though I'm a US citizen myself) will give promising candidates terrific training in a language?

One of my skills and passions is learning languages, and I think it would be terrific to be paid, or at least not have to pay, to do so (I know, right?). I'm also just starting my "career" (scare quotes because who knows what it actually is yet). Are there any other programs like the above? I don't really care what language it is, it's the process of gaining proficiency/fluency and the end ability to communicate with new people that excites me. My politics run pretty left, but feel free to suggest anything you know of-- it might be of interest to someone else. Please don't put down things like "Go do this job in rural Japan-- you'll speak great Japanese after living with the locals for a year or two!"; I'm looking for formalized, fairly intensive training (so also no "this company will subsidize you to take weekly Spanish classes at the local community college!"). I prefer things that don't necessitate moving from the US (for the actual job/career), but again, feel free to put down anything that fills my criteria.

Thanks in advance! I hope I've expressed my question clearly enough; if not, please let me know.
posted by threeants to Work & Money (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Join the Mormon Church and go through their missionary training center.

Apply for a Critical Language scholarship.

You may also want to follow the blog of Prof. Alexander Arguelles.
posted by holterbarbour at 6:10 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

The US Foreign Service Institutes language courses are in the public domain and are online.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:13 PM on June 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

I know people who got language courses working for the EU Parliament, as well as the UN. Both were lawyers.
posted by Nothing at 6:14 PM on June 21, 2010

The US Border Patrol gives you intensive Spanish classes at the academy.
posted by smalls at 6:14 PM on June 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. Some great stuff. The Critical Language Scholarships are something I'm aching to do but am not eligible for because you have to be a student.

Nothing, are there jobs in the EU parliament for non-EU citizens? (Not challenging your answer, as I'm sure it'll help many people reading this, just interested in knowing whether it can help me too). I speak French already.
posted by threeants at 6:22 PM on June 21, 2010

Many missionary organizations working overseas will have a significant language-learning phase prior to final assignment to place of service.

However, many such missionary organizations also require you to self-fund your career by raising your own salary through donations (called deputation, partnership development, etc.).
posted by darkstar at 6:38 PM on June 21, 2010

Linguistics in the US military. You head out to California and, depending on your language, spend a ton of time (I think the "easiest" languages are about 6 months) getting blasted with the language. Like 10 hours a day. It's really intense -- I haven't done it but know a couple of people who have.

The downside is that you have to join the military! Or else I think it'd be the ideal.
posted by wooh at 7:54 PM on June 21, 2010

Wooh's referring to the Defense Language Institute.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:00 PM on June 21, 2010

Yes, though usually that starts with internships, usually in international cooperation, or in development related work.
posted by Nothing at 8:28 PM on June 21, 2010

A "friend of a friend" in HS got a full ride scholarship and 6 years required service in NSA because she wanted to learn Arabic. She is in ... well actually I'm not sure if I should say :) but let's just say it is a part of the world that speaks Arabic. I assume she is getting direct culture training before listening to my international phone calls (assuming I spoke Arabic).

But no joking, NSA, or CIA or any of that will be a life commitment, serious background checks, gotta really learn the language. But damn will you learn some languages.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 11:36 PM on June 21, 2010

to answer your question you would normally have to be an EU citizen to work in the parliament or win one of the places working in what is effectively the civil service portion of the EU. Just having French over here is not a qualification as the English main/French minor pairs are a glut. You would have to have a minimum of 2 other EU languages and these days that generally means one of the new accession states so Lithuanian would be good.

I'm curious about the end of your question. It's a given that total immersion is the best way so outside of that it does seem likely that the defense forces (where they'll really want you to study Pashto/Dari, Arabic etc.,) are your only option. But the first part of your question suggests someone who wants to communicate with new people and pretty left politics all I would say is you don't become completely fluent doing 10 hours a day in a classroom. I just gave an interview on a Basque TV programme in Spanish and had to reassure the interviewer three times that yes, I really am Irish. This happens to me frequently in Spain and the implications of that kind of facility in a language and critically what that means about how you understand and communicate with the people is priceless. I would urge you to reconsider travelling to get your linguistic expertise.
posted by Wilder at 1:03 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing: many of the positions with the US government which require you to speak a foreign language require that you be fluent before you show up. Situations like DetonatedManiac's friend are where they pay you to go to school. There are plenty of agencies, military and otherwise, which will do that, but they aren't really focused on language as such. You can do basically anything they find useful, including language studies. Even situations like wooh describes are neither typical nor open to all comers: they've probably got a specific job in mind with people who already have some experience with the language in question.

In short, I don't think there are any government positions which will take a raw recruit and whip them into linguistic shape the same way boot camp whips them into physical shape. The government frequently snaps up people who are fluent in multiple languages, but I'm not aware of any large-scale programs specifically designed to produce such people.
posted by valkyryn at 5:02 AM on June 22, 2010

In short, I don't think there are any government positions which will take a raw recruit and whip them into linguistic shape the same way boot camp whips them into physical shape. The government frequently snaps up people who are fluent in multiple languages, but I'm not aware of any large-scale programs specifically designed to produce such people.
If you get good scored in the military and specify that you want to be a linguist when you sign, the military will do exactly this. I know people who've gone in for Mandarin and Arabic and they had no prior knowledge. And you do not need to do some internship or something first. Really you just have to get it in writing when you sign, score well, and not wash out (not washing out includes being able to pass a security clearance when they inevitably want you to do cryptolinguistics).
posted by wooh at 8:07 AM on June 22, 2010

My father was in the US Foreign Service. They sent him to school for French, Polish, Laotian, Bengali. He was often the only American in the embassy who spoke the local language. He was probably in the CIA....
posted by mareli at 8:58 AM on June 22, 2010

Arizona State University's Critical Languages Institute offers free, intensive summer courses. Yes, you have to be a student, but you can do it as a non-degree seeker in the summer. Probably not paid, though.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 2:53 PM on June 22, 2010

Pity about the French. French Foreign Legion would otherwise have fit the bill.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:11 PM on June 22, 2010

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