Languages I speak:
Language: Highest FSI* Level Attained: Current FSI* Level:
Tested: Estimated: Estimated:
English 5 5
French 4 3+
Spanish 3 2+
Bambara 3 2+
German 3 2
Japanese 2+ 2
More languages I have dabbled in:
Language: Highest FSI* Level Attained: Current FSI* Level:
Tested: Estimated: Estimated:
Fulani 3 0+
Italian 1+ 1
Bahasa Indonesia 1+ 0
Nepali 1+ 0
Thai 0+ 0
Hindi 0+ 0
Arabic 0+ 0
Portuguese 0+ 0

* Note: The FSI (Foreign Service Institute) rating system is used by the U.S. diplomatic corps. Level in a language is based on an oral interview, and has to do with competence in the spoken language, not its written form. The ratings range from 0, 0+, 1, 1+, etc. up to 5, where zero equals no knowledge, 3 is the level required to work at an embassy desk overseas dealing with the public in that language, 4 is both educated nonnative speaker and uneducated native speaker, and 5 is educated native speaker.

I have tried to be completely fair in the estimated FSI ratings of my abilities, underestimating if anything. I really am exceptionally strong in languages. I left Mali at the end of two and a half years having amassed 10 FSI points, a very respectable showing indeed. Foreign Service Officers receive a certain percentage pay bonus for every FSI point gained in the languages of the country they are serving in. I’d have been cleaning up like a bandit in Mali.

A little modesty is in order. Most of my language ability is due to living in Mexico for a year when I was eight years old, and attending regular Mexican third grade in Spanish. Eight was the right age, because soon afterward I was taking German in 7th grade and reinforcing my language learning skills. My brothers and sister, who were six, four, and two in Mexico, have not retained Spanish as well as I have. Linguists also say that the oldest of four is statistically the best language learner, strangely enough.

On the other hand, my siblings did retain the language and traveling bugs. Michael settled in France with his French wife Victoria and their three children. They are all bilingual. Bill and his wife Heather lived several years in Moscow, Kazakhstan, and Kirghizstan, and speak Russian very well.