When you’re deployed to Iraq, it stands to reason that at some point you need to be able to understand Arabic. Unfortunately, I am pretty hopeless on the understanding Arabic.
Take a look at this photo. Even the cars mirrors here are written in Arabic. I’ve been told this says “objects in mirror are closer than they appear,” but it just looks like a a bunch of squiggly lines to me.
Working in public affairs, most of the news channels on our TVs are presented in Arabic. Fortunately, I have a CNN International feed and an Al-Jazeera English feed. Coincidentally, the English Al-Jazeera is based in Washington and generally doesn’t show the videos of people getting killed. Also, they seem to have hired lots of old CNN anchors.
Back to the point… in order to work in an environment where nobody knows your name or speaks your language, you need some experts. We have three linguists in our office, and one is a cultural advisor. One of our linguists is very talented in that he speaks FOUR different languages — English, Arabic, Russian and French. I can barely speak English.
I’m not unhappy with my life, but sometimes I wish I had put forth more effort when I was younger to learn additional languages. It’s truly a marketable skill.