Counterterrorism expert gives advice to military language students

The man who leads the State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, visited his alma mater April 17, and gave Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center students some good advice regarding their language studies. “Love it,” and “have patience.”


“Cultivate that love for language…It’s like any other relationship. And you have to have patience. Language is something that takes years. It takes decades. It is easy to get frustrated so you have to put in the time year after year and go deep into the language,” he told service members studying Arabic-Levantine.

And Fernandez knows this from experience. He is a DLIFLC 1978 graduate of the Arabic Basic Course and a heritage speaker of Spanish. His perseverance and dedication to mastering Arabic led him to getting two degrees in Middle Eastern studies and pursuing a career in public diplomacy. He served at 10 embassies and consulates while with the State Department’s Near East Bureau and his fluency in Arabic allowed him to become the bureau’s spokesman on Arabic language and was a frequent guest in regional Arabic media.

“Studying Arabic at DLI certainly influenced my career and launched me into what has been a life-long career in the Foreign Service and essentially working in the Middle East. The Arabic learned here was the beginning of studying Arabic for 30 years and working in Arabic. So for me, it was the most significant educational experience in my career,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez_Hiam_4webBut language is not the only skill Fernandez gained at DLIFLC.

“When you speak a language you learn respect and compassion for others. People are people and their aspirations, fears, and concerns, are pretty similar to those of your own,” he said. “Having (compassion) will always help you do your job better, to be a more effective solider, to be a more effective diplomat, a more effective representative of the government and people of the United States. In that sense, we are all ambassadors, whether we are diplomats or corporals or soldiers in the field.” Today, Fernandez heads the CSCC that was established in 2010 at the direction of the President and the Secretary of State to target violent extremists and terrorist organizations with online information products in various languages. Much of his work is made possible by the analytic support of the intelligence community, capable linguists, members of academia, and organizations that can help counter the actions and ideologies of those who threaten the security of the United States.

Story and Photo Credits

Story and photos by Natela Cutter, PAO

Photo 1: Ambassador Alberto Fernandez observes a class of Arabic Levantine students discuss current affairs and debate issues in the target language on April 17, 2013. Fernandez graduated from the DLIFLC Arabic Levantine course in 1978.

Photo 2: Ambassador Alberto Fernandez walks with Hiam Kanbar, Middle East School I dean, toward Khalil Hall, where he observed an Arabic Levantine class April 17, 2013. A DLIFLC graduate, Fernandez is fluent in Arabic and has worked abroad in the language during his distinguished career at the State Department.

Posted Date: 17 April 2013