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Unlocking the World: FCDO's Guide to Language Learning

Updated: Apr 26



Have you ever dreamt of mastering a new language or felt the need to communicate fluently in a foreign tongue? Well, if you're part of the Foreign Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) in the UK, you might just be in luck. The FCDO offers a comprehensive language training program that goes beyond the typical language classes you might find elsewhere.

Developmental Language Training: Your Passport to Proficiency Picture this: You've been a proud member of the FCDO for over four years, and you're ready to embark on a linguistic adventure. The FCDO's "Developmental Language Training" program is here to help you take the plunge. This training allows UK-based officers to delve into popular languages ranging from levels A1 to C1. The process is straightforward, with small group lessons led by native speakers over Teams. These classes are organized into renewable semesters, providing 1.5 hours of language practice each week for twelve weeks. Over a year, you'll accumulate 36 weeks of immersive learning, and the best part? There's no apparent limit to how long you can continue this language journey. Yes, you read that right; you can keep renewing the experience. Some officers have been in C1 Spanish classes since day one!

But wait, there's more! If you're up for a challenge, you can take optional language certification exams, fully funded by the FCDO. These exams span various levels and skills, including 'Core Diplomatic' (Speaking, Reading, and Listening), Writing, and Translation.

Becoming a Speaker: The Language Odyssey Now, here's where things get exciting. For those with aspirations of working overseas (mind you, these positions are highly competitive, even internally), the FCDO offers the coveted "Speaker slot." If you land this role and don't already speak the required language (usually up to C1 level), you'll embark on the intense journey known as "Full Time Language Training" (FTLT). This comprehensive training regimen combines 1-to-1 private tuition with full-time study, spanning anywhere from 6 to 22 months, preparing you for your new role. Throughout this period, you'll work your way up to achieving official language certification, usually culminating in a C1 certification.

Language Learning for All Now, you might be wondering if all of this training is only for specific roles. While a significant portion is indeed reserved for those requiring language proficiency, the FCDO also offers Developmental Language Training for anyone in the UK. No prior experience is needed, and there are no assessments apart from your attendance. While preference is given to officers who will put the language to practical use, there are still openings for those who simply want to learn casually.

The Power of Language in Diplomacy The FCDO's commitment to language skills is no small matter. They even have their own language teaching center tucked away in the basement of their King Charles Street HQ. Each year, over 200 members of the FCDO dedicate themselves to mastering a wide range of languages. Worldwide, the FCDO has over 500 "speaker slots," where proficiency in the local language is essential.

The language learning experience is no walk in the park. It's a core professional skill and is treated as such. On average, officers receive 15 hours of tuition each week and complete around 20 hours of homework. Regular tests evaluate progress according to the internationally recognized Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Some officers even immerse themselves in the language for an extended period in-country, speaking nothing but the language they are learning. When they're ready, formal exams are taken, usually at C1 ("Operational") or C2 ("Extensive") levels.

Language Beyond Words: The Diplomat's Toolbox Diplomats need to be versatile, conversing in a range of registers, from social chit-chat to political discussions, and from day-to-day practicalities to macroeconomics. Proficiency in these areas is essential for an effective "language journey." Connecting the language to your life makes it tangible, aiding in the learning process.

The FCDO Language Center: A Hub of Learning The FCDO Language Center is at the heart of this language learning ecosystem. It delivers approximately 70,000 hours of language training annually to around 1,000 staff members. With up to 80 different languages on offer, it caters to a wide range of linguistic interests. The bulk of the training revolves around six core languages: Arabic, Russian, French, Spanish, German, and Mandarin. For roles requiring Mandarin, a substantial 22 months of language training is the norm.

Joining FCDO: Language Skills Not Required The Foreign Office welcomes all applicants, regardless of their language skills. While a language aptitude test is required for incoming policy entrants, it aims to assess your ability to learn, not your previous language skills. According to FCDO officials, they do not want to exclude talented individuals who haven't had the opportunity to study languages before joining.

The test is called the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) and you’ll generally need a score of 140+ out of a total of 162. This is a significant achievement and the vast majority of applicants won’t meet this. However, you can study for the MLAT and greatly increase your chances of qualifying. See here.

In conclusion, the FCDO's language training program is a unique and comprehensive journey, offering opportunities for everyone from aspiring linguists to diplomats preparing for overseas roles. If you're an FCDO officer or thinking about becoming one, remember that this "language odyssey" could be your passport to a world of exciting experiences and opportunities. So, why wait? Embark on your language journey with the FCDO and unlock new horizons!

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