Learning Arabic

Arabic is a language of national security importance. The US Government considers Arabic a “critical language” and provides additional funding for students to learn the language in addition to training Arabic linguists through the Defense Language Institute (DLI) and other options to increase the amount of Arabic language speakers.

Arabic is classified as a Category IV language – a language extremely difficult for an English language speaker to learn. A DLI course requires over 2200 hours of instruction over 64 weeks. This only gets an individual to a 2/2 on the Defense Language Proficiency Test, which is intermediate proficiency.

Despite the difficulty, learning Arabic can differentiate an Intelligence Officer from their peers and allow participation in truly important cultural exchange programs, counterterrorism and other activities of critical importance.

Arabic Script

Arabic uses a specific script in a similar way to English using the Roman Alphabet. Before an individual can learn Arabic they must learn the script. I found a handbook like the Complete Guide to Arabic Script Reading and Writing (right) the perfect starting point. In about 12 hours I was reading and writing the whole alphabet.

If you prefer not to spend money, the Headstart2 Arabic program includes a section on learning the Arabic script. Another resource for learning the script is from Madinah Arabic.

Arabic Dialects

Arabic is not actually one language, which contributes to the difficulty of learning it. The written language is known as Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which is a variation of what is also called Qu’ranic Arabic or Classical Arabic.

The spoken version of the language is split into dialects based on the location. For instance, there is an Iraqi dialect, a Levantine/Gulf dialect, a Saudi dialect, and so on. The most famous and widely used dialect is Egyptian Arabic, because Egyptian media like movies is broadcast throughout the Arab world.

For this reason, every Arabic speaker will need to learn MSA and a dialect. If you speak MSA, it is similar to speaking Shakespearean English – you will likely be understood in the cities but met with skepticism, and simply unintelligible outside the cities.

Basic Grammar and Vocabulary

The Headstart2 Arabic course will teach you approximately 750 words of MSA, review the Arabic script and cover basic grammar structures. Beyond this, the website Madinah Arabic covers several thousand Arabic words.

Special Operations Language Training (SOLT)

Another starting resource is the Special Operations Language Training (SOLT) Course. These course materials are used to prepare members of the US Special Forces to a 1/1 level, which covers about 25 weeks of material (1000 hours.)

Defense Language Institute Course

If you’re looking for more comprehensive training the Defense Language Institute MSA Basic Course resources are freely available. This is all the coursework used for the 64 week course that US Army and other linguists take.

Ultimate Arabic

This was the course that I used when I was learning Arabic. It includes a textbook and 8 CDs to teach you approximately 2000 words in Arabic. The copy I linked is the exact version I used, a new edition may have come out since then.

Intermediate Arabic Resources

Once you’ve completed the DLI resources (learning approximately 4000 words) or another comprehensive basic course you can move onto intermediate resources.

The Joint Language University includes some intermediate language resources.

Advanced Arabic

Like most languages, once you reach an advanced level the most important resources will be native language materials like Al-Jazeera Television, movies and written resources.

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Learning Spanish

Spanish is a popular language around the world. There are approximately 560 million speakers (first and second language) of Spanish in North, Central and South America, as well as Europe.

Spanish is one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn because the pronunciation is simple and there are few false cognates.

According to the Defense Language Institute (DLI) which trains Spanish linguists for the US government, Spanish is a Category I language, the easiest category. It takes approximately 700 hours to reach a conversational level in Spanish – as little as 6 months.

Below are some resources that can help you. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is a tool used to measure language learning. A 6 month DLI course is designed to reach B2; A1 and A2 are beginner levels, B1 and B2 are intermediate and C1 and C2 are advanced levels of proficiency.

A1/A2 Spanish

Duolingo will teach you approximately 2100 words of Spanish and help you practice your reading and writing in an online environment, through translations. The downside of Duolingo is that it doesn’t do much for your listening or speaking.

Spanish Headstart2 teaches about 750 words related to the military and government.

B1/B2 Spanish

When you get to the B1/B2 level, you might find changing your phone, laptop, and other software into Spanish in order to move into the advanced level.

Destinos is a 50 video series taught in full speed spoken Spanish (in the form of a telenovela) in order to build advanced learning comprehension. There is also a follow-up called Nuevos Destinos.

C1/C2 Spanish

When it comes to advanced Spanish, books and other resources might help but only conversing with native speakers will help. 2 hours a day for a year is all it takes though, and you can get there soon enough. Good luck!

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How to Pick Locks

Lockpicking is one of the most useful skills for an Intelligence Officer who finds themselves on the wrong side of information they need to access. Many times it’s useful to be able to open a door, such as when you lock yourself out of your home or car, or lose the key to a padlock.

Luckily, learning to pick locks is relatively easy. After reviewing the resources below you’ll have a basic understanding of how different lock technologies work and can then examine the further reading section for more comprehensive resources. Good luck!

Lock Picks

This is an example of a set of lock picks. The pick you choose is used with a tension wrench. You can see the hook pick and the rake here from WikiHow.com:

The tension wrench is inserted into the lock in order to create tension, and then the pick is inserted in order to push the pins in the lock up to the “shear line.” When all the pins are lined up above the shear line, the lock will open:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Padlocks

Padlocks are the simplest locks to pick so I recommend starting here. A Master Lock number 3 (pictured) is a good lock to start with. A Master Lock can be raked or pin picked,

I learned to pick a Master Lock #3 in a few hours.

Warded Locks

Warded locks are a specific type of simple lock mechanism that is used in old style locks (since the pin tumbler lock above wasn’t invented until the 1840s.) Warded locks use an obstruction in order to prevent the wrong key from fitting. This means that many potential keys will open a warded lock.

The black Master Lock is the warded version.

The jagged plug (where the key enters) is a convenient way to tell if you’re dealing with a warded lock. You’ll also note the lock uses simple obstructions rather than a set of cuts and grooves like in a pin tumbler lock.

Warded Picks

Warded picks are used to defeat warded locks, they have a variety of simple shapes to defeat the warded lock. They are sometimes referred to as skeleton keys, however this may also describe replicas that are not designed to actually work in locks.

Try-Out (Auto) Keys

Try-out keys are similar to bump keys above, but designed to accommodate auto locks which are a form of disc lock. Your car key is not unique, and so try out keys are available for most brands that allow auto locksmiths to open them.

They are sometimes called auto jigglers because a jiggling motion will help you open the lock.

Bump Keys

Bump keys exploit the idea that the pins in a lock only need to be up to the shear line for a split second in order for the lock to open.  Bump keys look like regular keys but they’ve been cut down to the bottom, so that they can transmit maximum force to the pins when inserted into the lock.

Cutaway Lock Kit

This is an example of the first set of locks I learned to pick with. Each of the locks has an extra pin so that as you learn to lift one pin to the shear line, it gets easier. Eventually you work up to 5 pins, which is a common house lock.

Further Reading

Community

Do you pick locks? Are you interested in learning? Let us know in the comments below!

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Learning French

French is one of the world’s most useful languages. There are approximately 1.6 million speakers (first and second language) all around the world. It is an official language in France, Canada, as well as other parts of Europe and Africa. In addition, it is one of the most common languages used in international organizations like the Red Cross.

Luckily, French is a relatively easy language for English speakers to pick up and there are lots of resources online to help you learn.

According to the Defense Language Institute (DLI) which trains French linguists for the US government, French is a Category I language, the easiest category. It takes approximately 700 hours to reach a conversational level in French – as little as 6 months.

Below are some resources that can help you. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is a tool used to measure language learning. A 6 month DLI course is designed to reach B2; A1 and A2 are beginner levels, B1 and B2 are intermediate and C1 and C2 are advanced levels of proficiency.

A1/A2

Duolingo will teach you approximately 1500 words of French and have you practice reading and writing in an online environment, though it won’t do much for your listening or speaking.

French Headstart2 teaches about 750 words related to the military and government.

B1/B2

Coursera Learn French B1/B2 is a course designed to help you move from the lower levels to the intermediate levels in French, in a grouped study format. You study online but you’re starting and finishing the course at a specified time along with other attendees.

Ultimate French Beginner/Intermediate is a textbook/DVD combo I found very helpful when I was learning French. It covers approximately 2000 words along with pronunciation tools and flashcards.

You might also find changing your phone, laptop, and other software into French in order to move into the advanced level.

French in Action is a 50 video series taught in full speed spoken French in order to build advanced learning comprehension.

C1/C2

When it comes to advanced French, books and other resources might help but only conversing with native speakers will help. 2 hours a day for a year is all it takes though, and you can get there soon enough. Bonne chance!

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