By Ana Maria Fernandez
Embassy Bogota’s consular section strives to achieve the highest standards of customer service, starting with effective client communication. In 2015, post established the Language Buddy Program, a versatile program created for all consular section employees to improve both Spanish and English skills. On a rotational basis, staff members coordinate the program and administer a survey to gauge interests, current language skills, and desired outcomes. Based on the results, the program coordinator pairs English-speaking staff with Spanish-speaking staff to hold conversations in both languages to practice and improve their skills.
The Language Buddy Program offers three benefits to its participants: to improve their language skills, experience an authentic cultural exchange, and get to know their coworkers better.
To further enhance the consular staff’s skills, post created the Language Coaching Program in 2019 to aid adjudicating officers in developing the necessary language skills to make informed visa decisions and provide the best customer service possible. As part of every officer’s onboarding training, they receive a list of the most common Spanish phrases used in consular work and participate in multiple specialized language sessions conducted by locally employed staff who serve as language coaches. During mock interviews, language coaches provide practical feedback and explain the nuances of the local culture.
“The Spanish Language [Coaching] Program was absolutely instrumental in improving our credibility as visa adjudicators with our Colombian applicants by [using] phrases and terminology widely spoken by the local population,” said Michael Ruhsenberger, an adjudicator and participant of the programs.
Participants of the language programs have found them integral to their day-to-day activities, continuously showing positive results by integrating local language and culture into the lives of U.S. diplomats.
Ana Maria Fernandez is a visa assistant at Embassy Bogota.