Category Archives: Language

Español es Una Montaña Rusa Para Mi

The tools of the trade.

The tools of the trade.

As diplomats we are given the chance to learn languages as rare and unknown as Quechua and as common as French.  This opportunity is at once a rare luxury and a humbling mind warp.  More than two years ago, when I finished studying Arabic and headed off for the Persian Gulf to serve in Bahrain, I thought that most likely I would head to another Arabic or English-designated posting for my second tour, but I fortunate enough to receive Spanish training for my consular assignment to Honduras.

Unlike Arabic, I immediately found Spanish appealing.  Arabic was a struggle the whole way through, with deep periods of disappointment, as it seemed I would never be able to communicate with any degree of comfort.  It’s true that today, if someone asked me if I speak Arabic, I would be dishonest to reply with anything more than “A very little bit, nothing more.”  Spanish, on the other hand, I soon discovered, was all around me in Washington.  If I wanted to I could completely immerse myself in the language without feeling distant from where I live here and now.  I was very excited about all the Spanish I would be speaking and the people I would be speaking Spanish with in the District.  That feeling faded about a month in, when I realized it was not going to be all pupusas and cerveza on the way to learning the mother tongue of Miquel de Cervantes, nor was I going to be speed-reading Don Quixote anytime soon.

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Acronymania, or Why I Named My Blog TLA

The first day I walked into my office at Embassy Manama, I remember hearing someone say something like this:  “Aaron, call the GSO and ask him to give you an update on your HHE and UAB ASAP, and then get on the low side, draft some language for the CDA about today’s activities before COB… Oh and cc me on an email to the RSO and tell him PolEcon needs to get the latest info by OOB DC-time, because we have a VVIP coming soon.  I’ll be on my BB if you need me.”  That is a perfectly average number of abbreviations and acronyms for a request from your supervisor if you work for the Department of State (DOS).  Acronyms serve a purpose: to reduce the number or words you need to use, both in verbal and written communication.  However, if you work for DOS then you are capable of creating an acronym out of anything.  This can get out of hand (OOH).  Soon, you begin to create acronyms and abbreviations where they are not necessarily useful and apply them as though they are common knowledge (CK) for Junior Officers (JO).  As you may have noticed, in State (short for DOS) you can create an acronym by simply putting the letters that represent a phrase in parentheses right after said phrase.  One such example occurred the earlier in my stay in Bahrain, when a VIP asked me if I had answered his staff’s RFI?  RFI?  Maybe I should have known that, but alas I was unfamiliar with the three letters that made me feel like an idiot.  But what I realized later was that it takes time to learn these acronyms and many VIPs get OOH and assume that these acronyms should be CK for many JOs at DOS, and that’s just BS.

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