language training and what I have to remember

Right now, we’re in the middle of learning Serbian for our upcoming post to Belgrade. I am absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to learn the language — moving to a foreign country where I don’t speak the language(s) and no one speaks English? Been there, done that, would prefer not to do it again. Yes, I survived Uzbekistan without any prior language knowledge, but that aspect wasn’t particularly fun. By the end of my time there, I was able to exchange pleasantries with the guards and tell the woman at the pet store how much dog food I wanted (though that adventure included a lot of pointing and nodding on my part), but that’s about it.

Serbia should be quite different. Not only will I be going armed with at least basic knowledge of the language, but also many people speak English there. Still, it is good to be spending our days at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) learning the language. FSI is a cool place to be and I’m enjoying class… for the most part. Language learning is tough, and for some people it is harder than others. The Foreign Service used to give officers a test that rated their ability to learn a foreign language (someone told me they no longer do this, but I’m not sure); however, EFMs don’t take the test, so I don’t have a definitive answer as to whether or not I am a “good” language learner, but I think it is safe say foreign languages are not my strong suit. I love the power a foreign language provides but, to be perfectly honest, the learning can get pretty miserable. It is a series of ups and downs where the ups are often lost among the downs.

The main thing I shouldn’t forget (but tend to) is that it doesn’t matter. My encouraging and optimistic husband tries to remind me of this but I’m not always the most receptive. I am in language training for myself and there’s no score I have to achieve, nothing I need to learn. That being said, I’m the worst in my class — and I’m not used to being the worst. One of the worst, perhaps, but the worst? Put it this way: I hate doing things I’m not good at. I can be a poor sport (there, I said it).  I will also admit I have both a mind like a sieve and a problem with sometimes keeping things in perspective. Put those two together, add in a not-so-easy language and sometimes it results in tears when I’m slaving over my homework.

Sometimes I can keep perspective and just have fun with it. Grant and I are now able to do things like talk about people in front of them without their knowledge. Not that we would do that, of course, because that wouldn’t be nice (sorry sis!); theoretically it could come in handy. Really, though, it is fun to be able to speak together in a foreign language and I’m glad I can take advantage of the opportunity to learn it before leaving for post. We should probably take advantage of the fact that we’re learning the same language and speak in it more often outside of the classroom, but I think I need to build my vocabulary a bit more so I can say things that are actually interesting.

In other news, Scarlett got her first US haircut!


I researched a lot and called tons of different groomers in the Arlington/DC area (and even some back in NJ) before eventually settling on the one I had called first. It was Scarlett’s first time going to the groomer’s — in Uzbekistan, the women came to our house and disappeared into the bathroom with her for a few hours — and she was a bit scared when I dropped her off. Fortunately, they said she behaved and they did a fantastic job. I had been so worried they would have to shave her because she was rather matted after having played in the snow over New Year’s (she loves snow), but she wasn’t shaved and she looks very cute — and now people can see the eight-pound dog that had been hiding under all that fur!


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