Skip to comments.Center focuses on America's current need - linguists
Posted on 12/12/2004 6:22:39 PM PST by SandRat
FORT HUACHUCA -The United States must do more to start training linguists at an earlier age because their need is becoming more critical in the troubled world of today, said Pete Shaver, director of the Military Intelligence Foreign Language Center.
The need for linguists to help in the intelligence arena cannot be understated, he said.
"We can't wait to train a soldier in a language until that person enlists," Shaver said.
The nation needs a core of people who have language capabilities beyond English to be tapped when circumstances dictate specific needs, he said.
Arabic speakers are needed now. Also important is having people who understand the nuances of Arabic culture and how within the combination of language and culture there are differences based on a person's native country also are important, Shaver said.
But students usually don't even begin language training in today's education system until they are in high school.
In the not too distant past, children were learning a language in middle or junior high school settings, Shaver said. The languages taught were traditional ones, such as German, French and Spanish.
Because of the threats facing the country from terrorists groups today, other languages are needed and many of them take many years to master, Shaver said. The languages needed during the Cold War era, especially Russian, are taking a back seat to the growing need for Arabic speakers.
During open house last week that Shaver hosted at the fort's language center to celebrate the first year in a new facility, three students from Smith Middle School performed a skit in Arabic.
The three - Steven Thomas, Angela Baldez and Jorge Rivera - attend the Huachuca Foreign Language Academy at Cochise College one day a week, where they and others participate in Arabic studies.
In their skit, based on Angela and Jorge seeking a room at a hotel with Steven playing the desk clerk, they went through the process of asking to see a room and then registering.
At the end of the playlet, Steven, Angela and Jorge repeated their lines in Arabic and then translated them into English.
Steven and Angela, both eighth-graders, said it is exciting to learn a language. The special academy also gives them high school credit.
"It makes you think in a different language," Angela added.
Jorge, a seventh-grader, said he likes the additional learning experience.
The academy also includes cultural information. Shaver said culture and language are tied together. And, he said, just because a person can speak Arabic, it does not mean the are knowledgeable about Arab culture. The reverse is true, too.
Total immersion is important, said Shaver, who has years of experience in teaching languages, as well as being part of the military intelligence community.
To that end, the language center on the post supports immersion programs.
A small group of soldiers is expected to go to Beijing to absorb Chinese and that country's culture. Another group will be heading to Yalta in Russia for the same type program.
Four soldiers also will be heading to Chile for Spanish immersion under University of Arizona South associate professor Ruth Kartchner. During the two-week immersion program, only Spanish will be spoken. The group will leave after Christmas.
The object is for the soldiers to hear and speak nothing but Spanish and to absorb some of the Hispanic culture.
This is Kartchner's fourth immersion trip for the post's language center, Kartchner said, adding she does two a year.
Shaver said the immersion courses provide additional skills for soldiers.
"They eat it. They dream it. They talk it (a language) until their jaws are sore," he said.
Shaver's wife is originally from Ecuador, and there are differences in the Hispanic culture. To his wife, if a person says they want to go and have tacos it is confusing to her.
"Tacos, to her, are the heels of shoes," he said
The center has a number of tools to help keep soldiers proficient to include video, Internet training and a program in which such things as TV shows in different languages, are used.
Proficiency is needed. The center helps keep soldiers up to speed in a language they may speak.
In some cases, soldiers may just need basic language skills to use at a checkpoint. In circumstances involving intelligence linguists, more capabilities are needed, Shaver said.
The future of the nation's security depends on having well-trained linguists, in the languages with a large number of speakers and those from areas where problems might arise, especially in Africa.
The center trains using images. A person can more easily relate some parts of a language to an image, Shaver said
"It's a fact. We think in images," he added.
As the military continues with transforming how it operates, the military intelligence community has to make more rapid changes when it comes to languages and culture training, Shaver said.
When the terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, it was quickly realized that the number of linguists needed to increase. Shaver said it was similar to when the Russian's launched a missile into space carrying a communications satellite. The realization that the United States had to catch up in the 1960s in space was, just like knowing more emphasis had to be put into creating a language base.
"This is our Sputnik moment," he said of pushing for language skills in the nation.
I took Russian in high school during the 1960s. The teacher's salary was paid for by the government because not too many kids took Russian.
If the government wants schools to teach Arabic, the government needs to pay for the teachers because not enough kids will sign up for Arabic to make it cost-effective for the school.
This is just one of the many areas which our government doesn't properly utilise the internet. If you want more people to learn arabic, put free arabic courses online. IIRC, the state department already publishes its own arabic book and audio tapes for its diplomats, but it costs about $200-300.
High school is already late for learning a second language. Once you hit puberty, your brain begins to "lock-in", basically hardwiring the learning process. Adults who speak two languages can learn a third or fourth without nearly the same difficulty as a person who didn't learn any foreign language until after puberty.
I know the "English Only" types are gonna complain about this, but they have done more damage to American education and our ability to compete in the global marketplace (let alone conduct a reasonable foreign policy) than anyone else.
Reminds me of a riddle from, of all places, Ft. Huachuca (96B Intel Analyst Course 11-78). What do you call someone who speaks two languages? More than two? Only one?
The federal government needs to pay for these teachers because school districts can't afford the teachers unless the enrollment is substantial.
Well, technically that is Monolingual but I kinda like Unilingual.
The answers to the riddle: Bilingual, Multilingual and American.
The US gov. won't hire Jews or Palestinians as translators.
That takes a huge chunk of educated people out of their databases.
If you think the white boy down the street is going to study Arabic, forget about it. It's waaaaaay too difficult.
Morse code is MUCH easier than Arabic, and can land an enlistee automatic NCO status.
Yet how many can do it?
Like a previous poster said, if you haven't learned 2 languages by puberty, you're sunk.
Only first and second generation Americans are bilingual. I admit to that category African Americans who speak both standard English and Ebonics.
The rest of America is lost. Clueless.
"The center trains using images. A person can more easily relate some parts of a language to an image, Shaver said"
"It's a fact. We think in images," he added.
Gee, I thought we used words to communicate. Does this mean future translators/interpreters from the center will be able to see the images in terrorists' minds while not understanding overheard conversations? Will images of 72 virgins trigger a code orange?
The government could attach a substantial financial premium on a student's gaining proficiency in the needed languages. The language training needs to start young. For instance, any kid who can pass an advanced fourth year level of written and oral Arabic by, for instance, 10th grade, would receive $40,000 or most of his college education paid, sort of like an ROTC arrangment, but in this case earlier on in the game, since languages need to be learned early. The student would owe the government a certain number of years of paid translation work - some even after high school and before college - using these language skills.
"Gee, I thought we used words to communicate. "
We do, but adult learning is "holistic", and most adults learn better through images, though all five senses are involved. There's a whole body of new neurolingistic research in this area (which I can't understand, but I find people who do).
I know the literature and the issue. And when I hear buzzwords, I envision garbage.
Of course, the theorists love buzzwords ... all academics do. Educational theorists really pile them on. But any specialty uses them. The bottom line is that adults learn differently, and pictures, sounds, smell, taste, and feel are part of how we learn.
I speak five fairly well and can get by in a sixth and didn't speak anything but English until I was in my twenties.
"Morse code is MUCH easier than Arabic, and can land an enlistee automatic NCO status. Yet how many can do it?"
Boy Scouts used to it was a requirement to earn the 1st Class Rank and there was a Signaling Merit Badge requiring 10 characters a minute in Morse Code but even those have been removed from Scouting.
Pete Shaver is an old bud of mine and knows what he's talking about. The real problem is that the Army has never managed its linguist resources well. I was a Korean linguist for twenty years. I avoided stateside assignments like the plague since most had no use for linguists.
Same with most tactical assignments overseas. Your usefullness was measured by how well you could maintain a twice-and-a-half or type a memo. My training cost the Army more than the Air Force pays for a fighter pilot, yet I spent 60% of my time twiddling my thumbs in totally unrelated duties.
My formula for success? Get a long-haired dictionary. You learn more language horizontal than you ever will while vertical. Get several long-haired dictionaries. I had one who was fluent in German and another who was fluent in Russian; languages I had learned long before the Army decided it needed me to learn Korean.
My final tour in Korea was in 1996, but I can still read, write, and speak the language well enough for any situation.
Yep that will do it! Just so long as you don't already have a long-haired law giver at home.
I have taught myself about 15 to 20 languages. I'm fluent in Spanish (among the best Anglo Spanishi speakers in the Nation), Italian, French & Portuguese. Mid-level Chinese, Russian, Japanese, & German. My Arabic is getting real good. Not quite at the 40 to 50% level yet, but gaining fast.
What opportunities are there for poly-linguals such as myself?
Plenty. Apply to the FBI, CIA, DOD, any one of the military services (if you're young enough). You'll need to have a background that is clean and that would allow you to be granted a Top Secret security clearance possibly even Special Compartmentalized Information caveat.