DLI Beefs Up Language Skills
Students in the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center's Arabic course practice their language skills during a training exercise.

MONTEREY, Calif. (Army News Service, March 29, 2007) - In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Department of Defense took a more serious look at the linguistic and cultural preparedness of America's military. More precisely, DOD looked closely at capabilities of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, Calif., the government's premier provider of foreign-language training.

A landmark institution since 1941 - when Japanese-American Soldiers were first trained to become translators and interpreters in World War II - DLIFLC has transformed several times and today teaches 24 languages, with courses ranging from 27 to 64 weeks.

"Our military missions are so different today than they were during the Cold War, when Russian and other East European languages were our largest programs," said Lt. Col. Deborah Hanagan, DLIFLC chief of staff.

Basic language programs at DLIFLC fluctuate with changing international situations and DOD's needs. In the post-9/11 era, the largest training program is no longer Russian, but Arabic. What has really changed at the DOD level, and thus at the institute itself, is the realization that the nation's armed forces need linguists capable in many less commonly taught languages, Hanagan said.

"If someone had told me six years ago that we would be teaching languages such as Urdu, Kurdish, Uzbek or Hindi, I would have told them they were crazy," said Hanagan. A list of most-needed linguists is issued each year by DOD.

Only months after the 9/11 tragedy, DLIFLC set up a task force to build courses and train linguists in the major languages of Afghanistan (Dari and Pashto), as well as in Kurdish, Uzbek and Georgian. The Global War on Terrorism Task Force has since transformed into the Emerging Languages Task Force, which teaches such strategically important languages as Hindi, Urdu, Kurdish and Indonesian, Hanagan said.

"We no longer wait for a region to fall into crisis," said Capt. Angi Carsten, ELTF's associate dean. "We need to anticipate which languages will be needed in the future and start building course materials now. As soon as a language program matures in our department, meaning that the course has been built, we move it out to one of the eight schools and focus on something new. Dari and Pashto are examples of maturing programs."

At the DOD level, the need to increase military language training called for an infusion of money for new technologies, curriculum development and the hiring of new staff members, as well as for ramping up the production of language-survival and cultural-familiarization materials intended for deploying servicemembers.

"We have basically doubled the size of our faculty, staff and student load, while our budget has tripled," said Warren Hoy, chief of mission support for the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations. DLIFLC's budget was $77 million in 2001, while fiscal 2006's budget was $197 million.

DLIFLC today has more than 1,500 professional language instructors and is expecting to hire another several hundred teachers in 2007. The student load has grown since 2001 and is now more than 3,500 at any given time. Linguists come from all four branches of the military, the U.S. Coast Guard and other DOD agencies, Hanagan said.

The institute graduates more than 2,000 students per year and has degree-granting authority, whereby qualified students can receive associate degrees in foreign language.

"Technology plays a big role in the classroom, because the younger generations are used to having access to information at their fingertips. We now have interactive white boards in every classroom, we issue students MP3 players or iPods, and are providing them with tablet PCs," said MAJ John Hoffmenschen, associate dean of one of DLIFLC's Middle East schools.

But DLIFLC's work does not stop with the basic courses. The Institute also teaches intermediate, advanced and refresher courses to returning students at the Directorate of Continuing Education. When units are not able to send linguists back to DLIFLC, teachers are sent to them, via mobile training teams. These teams are sent to outlying regions to teach courses for weeks at a time, Hanagan said.

Distance learning has also become a popular means of keeping linguists' language skills current. The institute provides video tele-training courses, whereby teachers in Monterey can converse with students located around the world. In addition, DLIFLC maintains 11 permanent Language Training Detachments located throughout the continental United States and Hawaii.

Aside from producing basic-language course materials, the institute's Curriculum Development Directorate has been turning out language-survival kits since the crises in Somalia and Haiti in the early 1990s. The LSKs are intended for non-linguists. In 2006 more than 200,000 LSKs were sent to deploying servicemembers.

The LSKs are available in more than 50 languages, and consist of small pocket-size booklets and a CD. They cover emergency survival phrases, and most languages have additional modules with topics that range from medical terminology to civil affairs. The delivery of these products is moving to a Web-based system, which is available (from .mil sites) at fieldsupport.LingNet.org.

"It is absolutely vital that every Soldier know a little bit about the Arabic culture, the dos and don'ts, and some words and phrases just to get by," said an instructor at one of the Middle East schools, who asked to remain anonymous.

Military language instructors are NCOs and petty officers who have undergone the basic course, speak the target language fluently, have served a tour using their language, and have returned to teach at DLIFLC.

"I did a lot of translation for commanders, doctors and local people, and knowing the culture was very helpful, especially when there were misunderstandings," the instructor said about her tour in Iraq and experience in Afghanistan.

The newest product to hit the streets this spring will be the Iraqi Headstart program. Using computer animation and cutting-edge technology, this product consists of a 10-day course that teaches survival phrases in the Iraqi dialect of Arabic. Additionally, other useful Web-based materials are available to linguists and the general public at www.LingNet.org.

Information on the site includes area studies called "Countries in Perspective," which provides information on the history, geography and socio-political settings of nations. There are online language courses and more than 100,000 reading and listening lessons in a dozen languages under the Global Language Online Support System.

Why put so much emphasis on language learning and culture'

"It is all about winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi and Afghan citizens, because we don't want them to harbor terrorists within their ranks. It is a whole new way of using our military force," said Hanagan.

(Natela Cutter works in the Strategic Communications Office at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center.)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16