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Uzbek or Dari? Military learns new tongues
Christian Science Monitor ^ | 01/02/04 | Ann Scott Tyson

Posted on 01/03/2004 3:23:50 PM PST by Holly_P

Defense Language Institute alters its curriculum for soldiers in post-9/11 world.

MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA - When 1st Lt. Aaron Wiggins graduates from language school, proficient in Pashto, he knows an Afghanistan deployment won't be far off.

And Airman 1st Class Jennifer Burnside, a student of Arabic, expects she'll soon be flying 18-hour eavesdropping missions over the Middle East as a "listener" with an airborne intelligence unit.

Insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with a broadening terrorist threat, are increasing demands on the ranks of US military linguists capable of gathering intelligence in foreign languages.

Indeed, an Army report released last fall found that "the lack of competent interpreters throughout the theater impeded operations" in both countries. "The US Army does not have a fraction of the linguists required," concludes the report by the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

To ease the crunch, the military's main language-training center, the Defense Language Institute (DLI) here, is dramatically altering the mix of foreign tongues it teaches. With a faculty of more than 1,000 and 3,800 full-time students attending classes each year, DLI teaches 80 percent of the government's foreign language classes.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, DLI has added ten new languages to the curriculum, which it anticipates will be vital to curbing terrorism, such as the Afghan dialects of Dari and Pashto, as well as Chechen, Uzbek, Armenian and Urdu.

At the same time, the Institute has sharply increased the number of students learning Persian (up 70 percent), Korean (up 50 percent) and Arabic (up 40 percent) - as if tailoring the production of linguists for the three countries dubbed "the axis of evil" by President Bush: Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.

"Korean may seem disproportionately high compared to Arabic, but there's always the potential for things to go bad on the Korean Peninsula and we'd need that pool in place," says Col. Michael Simone, Commandant of DLI.

Meanwhile, DLI is adapting new technology and instruction methods aimed at speeding the study of difficult and obscure languages while making the content more realistic and relevant.

Many of the advances come together at DLI's newest branch, the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) Task Force, set up soon after the Sept. 11 strikes. "There was a lot of leaning forward in the foxhole, guessing what might be needed," says task force Associate Dean Maj. David Tatman.

Urgent needs On one hand, the task force responded to urgent demands for translations from the US military in the field. For example, it translated the Army's Ranger Handbook into Dari for use in training the Afghan army, and also translated letters home from detainees classified as "enemy combatants" at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Meanwhile, in order to launch new DLI programs quickly in rarely studied languages such as Dari, the task force had to create curricula from scratch, hunt for the few qualified faculty, and begin training students at the same time.

Mahmood Taba-Tabai, dean of the task force and a native of Iran, says he quickly realized there were few commercially available Dari materials. Chapters on "picking cherries in spring" and "how to cut mullah's beard" were ill suited for his US military students.

"We can still cut the mullah's beard, but we also have to clear the minefields," quips Mr. Taba-Tabai. DLI students must learn a range of military terms along with basic proficiency in a language.

An innovative technology introduced last year known as the "SMART board" is also helping DLI compress the time needed to master foreign languages. The SMART boards are large classroom screens that take the place of blackboards, overhead projectors, and the language lab. The boards can display Internet content, textbook pages, or even the zigzags of sound waves, allowing teachers to dissect individual phrases.

Lessons designed on computers by teachers are saved on a server, then broadcast on the SMART boards, as well as to tablet PCs used by each student in the classroom and to the students' dormitory work stations.

"We can get streaming video from Al Jazeera, BBC in Arabic, and newspapers from the Middle East and import it into the classroom," says Dr. Christine Campbell, head of one of DLI's Middle East departments. "This lets us expose students to what the natives are seeing and listening to every day."

Today's news not only keeps classes lively but also provides a grounding in current events for students, 90 percent of whom will take jobs in military intelligence. Of these, 70 percent specialize in cryptology, or signals intelligence, and 20 percent in human intelligence.

After DLI, students have additional training in skills such as number dictation, reading hand-written texts, and weapons vocabulary before deployment to overseas hot spots.

"I wish we had the ranges to do weapons training," says Col. Simone from his office on the DLI campus at the Presidio of Monterey, which traces its origins to an 18th-century Spanish fort. "So many of our graduates are going off in short order to dangerous places."

Hilly campus Set on a hill overlooking the rocky Pacific coastline, DLI has the look of a community college but the regimented feel of a military base. DLI courses are highly demanding, students say. "It's definitely a full-time job," says Lieutenant Wiggins after a Pashto class in which his teacher role-played an Afghan refugee seeking help after an earthquake.

Students have more than six hours of language training and two to three hours of homework per day. On average, each class of 30 students is taught by a team of six teachers. Reaching proficiency requires 18 months of study for the most difficult languages such as Arabic, Korean and Chinese, compared to six months for Spanish and French.

"This is the most intensive education I've ever received. It makes the college courses I've taken look ridiculous," says Airman Burnside from Yuma, Ariz. "I try to talk and all that comes out is Arabic."

TOPICS: Extended News; Foreign Affairs; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: intelligence; translators; usmilitary
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1 posted on 01/03/2004 3:23:51 PM PST by Holly_P
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To: All
Rank Location Receipts Donors/Avg Freepers/Avg Monthlies
45 South Dakota 20.00

Thanks for donating to Free Republic!

Move your locale up the leaderboard!

3 posted on 01/03/2004 3:27:39 PM PST by Support Free Republic (Happy New Year)
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To: pray and forgive
How are you going to decide who is trustworthy?

The Defense Language Institute is expert at teaching languages in a short period. My first husband was a graduate of the Russian program, and was quite fluent in Russian by the time he graduated.

4 posted on 01/03/2004 3:32:19 PM PST by Miss Marple
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To: Miss Marple
My daughter is there now studying Mandarin.
5 posted on 01/03/2004 3:33:40 PM PST by Spruce (RTFM)
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To: Miss Marple
I graduated the basic russian course back in 86. It was tough, I'll tell ya, and that was before all this nice equipement and the internet. DLI in Monterey was one heck of a nice place to live though. Wish I were younger to do it all over again, only in one of the Arabic languages or Persian...

As for hiring trustworthy natives, when dealing with intel, there's only trustworthy Americans who have passed a background investgation and received proper clearances. That's just life. And what you get in return is one well trained professional soldier, airmen, marine or sailer.
6 posted on 01/03/2004 3:43:22 PM PST by Dogbert41
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To: msdrby
7 posted on 01/03/2004 3:51:45 PM PST by Professional Engineer (3JAN ~ I SAW my unborn child move this morning!!)
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To: Dogbert41
I've always wanted to learn Russian. How long did it take you to learn it?

8 posted on 01/03/2004 3:55:29 PM PST by Seselj
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To: Dogbert41
Exactly my point. We can't know about native language speakers; Americans can be thoroughly investigated.

I myself was the subject of an investigation due to my marriage. They even interviewed my grandmother.

9 posted on 01/03/2004 3:58:27 PM PST by Miss Marple
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To: Professional Engineer
Good For You! Congratulations!
10 posted on 01/03/2004 3:59:58 PM PST by nuconvert ("This wasn't just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.")
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To: Dogbert41
"I graduated the basic Russian course back in 86. It was tough, I'll tell ya"

Central Asian languages and Arabic is where the action is these days.

If a youngster wanted to be on the fast track, that's what I'd recommend they study.

People who spend the next couple years in Uzbekistan, or some such place, are the people who'll will have stories to tell their kids and grandkids.

11 posted on 01/03/2004 4:00:13 PM PST by billorites (freepo ergo sum)
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To: Holly_P
I prefer Dari

12 posted on 01/03/2004 4:37:43 PM PST by klute
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To: Holly_P; Archangelsk
The problem is in peacetime the military cuts the hell out of this program. Generals who majored in football in college see it as a frill. Then they find themselves in command of a task force in Wayoutistan and all they have is local interpreters, all of whom come with an agenda that, whatever it is, isn't American.

At this point General Tailback starts screaming for GI linguists, only to find the Army doesn't have any. Or he gets one, so that he can get his restaurant menus translated, but the MPs at the gate of the base and the SF teams out in the boonies have to rely on local hires.

They never learn. After 1989, they very quickly dismantled an excellent series of programs in Eastern European languages. In the late nineties, those nations joined NATO or Partnership for Peace and we had linguistic problems again.

Then, the military takes the graduates and in many cases assigns them to duties that have little bearing on their language skill. A foreign language is a skill that erodes quickly if not maintained. Some leaders think that when their linguists are reading foreign-language papers or magazines, or watching a foreign movie, they are "wasting time" and they'd rather see them in the motor pool packing wheel bearings -- real soldier's work. So the retention of linguists is probably the lowest of any speciality in the military, even though they have some of the longest training (over a year, minimum) and to pass the school need to have high test scores.

There is no royal road to foreign language skills. Especially in a society like ours that does not value foreign languages and that has mostly purged them from the public schools. You need a long and intensive course like this, or total immersion in the language for many months, or both.

And then, because things change, unless you train a wide range of language skills, and not just those that are involved in the immediate crisis, you still risk having the wrong linguists.


Criminal Number 18F

13 posted on 01/03/2004 4:44:21 PM PST by Criminal Number 18F (DLI '80)
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To: Seselj

The DLI Russian Basic Course was 47 training weeks long when I was there (although not for Russian). It might be a few weeks longer now -- it adds up to a whole year spent studying. It gets people to a basic level of proficiency, depending on their aptitude and motivation. You can converse on just about any subject, you can read most materials and understand them.

Most of the courses at DLI are aimed at providing reading and listening proficiency, rather than speaking and writing (which is tougher). There are specialty courses, say for interrogators, that stress the spoken language.

For civilians that want to learn a language, the best way (IMHO) is total immersion. Among schools & universities in the USA, Brigham Young University stands out, although the caffeine-free campus is a heavy cross to bear if you don't share their LDS faith.


Criminal Number 18F
14 posted on 01/03/2004 4:50:14 PM PST by Criminal Number 18F (DLI '80)
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To: Criminal Number 18F
One thing I didn't mention, unlike university instructors, most DLI instructors are native speakers of the target language. That is a very important thing. During the 80s there were so many Russian classes that some of the Russian instructors were experienced military linguists.

Parents with service age, bright kids -- this is a good program. All four services send people here, albeit for different languages and different purposes. A majority of the graduates will work in some aspect of intelligence collection or analysis -- they might wind up with stories they can't tell the grandkids.


Criminal Number 18F

15 posted on 01/03/2004 4:56:18 PM PST by Criminal Number 18F (DLI '80)
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To: Holly_P
I've been to DLI a few times and been trained in other languages. I highly recommend it as a career path and as horizon broadening experience.

Milestones of language study.

- Dreaming in a foriegn language, with better vocab and grammar than I had when I was awake.

- Listening to someone speak in another language not realizing that it's wasn't English until they switched back to English.

- Answering a question reflexively in target language and then being amazed at what came out your mouth.

That doesn't even get into the joys of travelling in a country where almost no foriegners speak the local language. (Or some of the more interesting job related uses)

16 posted on 01/03/2004 5:08:03 PM PST by Steel Wolf ("Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word 'safe' that I wasn't previously aware of.")
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To: billorites
Central Asian languages and Arabic is where the action is these days.

I guessed wrong, back when they phased my old language out. I decided to jump ship to either Chinese or Arabic. At the time, I figured, man, Arabic is old news, China is where the action's gonna be.

That was in the late 90's. Who knew? Of course, for the longer term Chinese is a smarter move, but I had all but flipped a coin to make my decision.

17 posted on 01/03/2004 5:18:05 PM PST by Steel Wolf ("Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word 'safe' that I wasn't previously aware of.")
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To: Steel Wolf
To your milestones I'd add:

- Knowing a word in one of your foreign languages, and not being able to think of it in English.

- Asking a question of a local, who detects your accent and answers in flawless English -- then turning to the companion for whom you're translating, and saying "He said..." and repeating what the bemused local just told you both.

- Being at an Ambassador's residence and speaking English, Dutch , French, German and Czech all in one evening, astonishing all the FSOs who thought you were a knuckle-dragging trigger mechanic.

- Replying to a question in the wrong foreign language, and not realising it until the puzzled look of your questioner implants on your brain.


Criminal Number 18F
18 posted on 01/03/2004 5:19:53 PM PST by Criminal Number 18F (DLI '80)
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To: Spruce
The Mandarin Chinese course is one of the better run schools there, and if she applies herself I'm sure your daughter will have a pretty solid basis in Chinese at the end of her 63 weeks.
19 posted on 01/03/2004 5:22:37 PM PST by Steel Wolf ("Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word 'safe' that I wasn't previously aware of.")
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To: klute

This well-known actress is half-Persian, speaks fluent Parsi (Farsi), and would likely make a fine instructor...

20 posted on 01/03/2004 5:28:16 PM PST by mikrofon (Aide shoma mobarak)
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