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Only 10 of 34,000...

A ratio of 1:3,400. Anything measured by that ratio is a stunning comparison to make. But that 10 of 34,000 is precisely the number of fluent Arabic-speakers at the US Department of State dwarfs 'stunning' and it's use as the appropriate adjective.

From Athena at Terrorism Unveiled in The Critical Language Need:

Here's the real kicker:

At the State Department, for instance, only 10 of 34,000 employees are rated fully fluent in Arabic.

I'm guessing this is fluency on a 1-5 scale. Native speakers who maybe spoke Arabic until they enrolled at school in the US would even have a hard time attaining a level 5 fluency, so around a level 4 is well enough to communicate effectively.

Yet still...only ten? No wonder we're having such problems projecting our image (I'm an avid opponent to the argument that we have such a bad public image mostly as a result of our policies; in my view we simply cannot communicate them effectively because we fundamentally misunderstand our audience.)

There are far more than 10 Arabic-speaking nations in the world. That means our own State Department has less than 1 fully fluent Arabic speaker for each of them.

Most would conclude that maybe, just maybe, Athena's onto something here.


Yep, Afghanistan went releatively well, we had Ambassador Khalizad there.

Iraq went downhill with Bremer. Now that Khalizad is there, it is going uphill.

Fluent enough to understand nuance is a necessity.

And with that, I rest Athena's case.

Thanks for that perfect observation.

Aside: ...and don't think his value is strictly in the Middle East.

(My favorite short by him.)