US Embassy Oman: Arabic Language Proficiency

An all too familiar report on Arabic proficiency and staffing gap. This one excerpted from the newly released OIG report on the US Embassy in Oman:

None of the section’s officers has reached a level of language competence that allows them to discuss embassy business in Arabic at a professional level. Government officials and educated interlocutors usually speak English, but the lack of Arabic proficiency among political and economic officers limits outreach beyond society’s elite. One employee remarked that the lack of language ability insulates American officers from Omani culture. This is to be expected in a section staffed primarily by ELOs, who cannot receive the full two years of Arabic language training needed to establish proficiency in the language. The embassy is delaying the arrival of one of the new ELOs to allow for one full year of Arabic language training.
Public diplomacy outreach in Oman is often conducted in English, in whole or in part. The current assistant public affairs officer (PAO) did not complete the one year of training required for his position and is on a language waiver. The PAO routinely uses Arabic in conversation and in informal remarks with other Omani audiences. When possible, officers speak Arabic at least as an ice-breaker. For example, the PAO speaks Arabic to open each year’s orientation for teenage exchange students and their parents. As the embassy actively seeks opportunities to reach out to grassroots and non-elite civil society organizations where interlocutors less commonly speak fluent English, it would significantly enhance the embassy’s outreach success if officers were trained in Arabic to the conversational level. The Department-wide deficit of public diplomacy cone officers, along with staffing requirements in Iraq and the growth at Middle Eastern posts, make this a global issue outside the scope of this inspection.

OIG Report No. ISP-I-10-71A – Inspection of Embassy Muscat, Oman – August 2010