“Our officers’ superior language skills are indeed the gold standard of tradecraft.” William Burns, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency’s global mission requires a workforce that can communicate with anyone, anywhere. Language training is key to maintaining a workforce capable of communicating across languages and cultures. Staffed by experts in education, linguistics, testing, and policy, the CIA’s Intelligence Language Institute (ILI) oversees the Agency’s foreign language initiatives and provides foreign language instruction and testing tailored to the mission needs of our global workforce.
Since CIA formally established a language program in 1951, the Agency has invested heavily in the development and professionalization of the language school’s instructor cadre. Instructors use interactive, computer-aided language programs, advanced pedagogical techniques, and are even piloting virtual reality training to enable a dynamic learning environment.
In addition to learning how to read, speak, and listen in a foreign language, officers studying at ILI learn how to build trust and enhance relationships through advanced cultural knowledge and tailored phrases and idioms. Our mission requires that students are prepared culturally and linguistically for any situation, and ILI’s instructors are acutely aware of this fact.
“Whether seeking to build rapport with a new contact or translating for a visiting senior official at a cocktail party,” said one former student, “I could rely on my language training on a daily basis to get the mission done.”
ILI offers a premier environment to grow as a student, a teacher, and an Agency officer. ILI prides itself on having a diverse instructor cadre, who are experts in their fields of education, curriculum development, testing, and policy. Our instructors are U.S. Intelligence officers who hail from more than 24 countries and speak more than 40 languages.
“Seeing the students move from learning the alphabet to being able to discuss complex topics related to CIA’s mission in the target language in a matter of months is quite rewarding,” says one language instructor who was born and raised in Senegal and decided to learn English after listening to Bob Marley’s music.
ILI’s enduring support to CIA’s mission owes in no small part to the support foreign language instruction and resources has received from successive directors. Today, ILI incentivizes all aspects of foreign language development, from training and testing to every-day usage. Foreign language expertise is critical to securing our nation, and we are indebted to the instructors who teach and the officers who learn foreign language.