By Maj. John LloydMarch 3, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Learning another language can be difficult. In the military, Soldiers are often required to familiarize themselves with a foreign language indicative to the region they will deploy to and sometimes, the time in which they are given to learn that language is short.
Since November, the Soldiers in the 37th Engineer Battalion have been training with the Defense Language Institute to learn the Arabic language in preparation for their upcoming deployment to Iraq. At the end of February, the remaining 15 Soldiers in the class will finish their training before heading to the National Training Center in March. At the end of their training, the Soldiers will then be given the oral proficiency interview, which includes both speaking and listening proficiency.
For eight hours a day, five days a week, the Soldiers in the language immersion program are encouraged to only speak Arabic while in class. To receive breaks or go to lunch, they must ask in Arabic. The idea behind this technique is to force each student to learn and become familiar with the language in their environment.
Along with learning Arabic, the Soldiers were also taught about the Iraqi culture so as to better prepare them for their deployment. Team leader, Sgt. Matthew Wood, 1st Platoon, Company B, 37th Eng. Bn. said the language program has not only provided critical language skills to survive, but the cultural awareness classes dispelled many myths about Iraqi culture.
Afaf Samarraie, an Arabic instructor from the DLI in Monterey, Calif. is assigned to teaching the 37th Eng. Bn. Soldiers.
"The object of the familiarization course is to give the Soldiers a better
understanding of the language and the culture," Samarraie said. "Iraqis appreciate having someone from another country try to speak their language. It's the small things that are important and give Soldiers another tool to use."
Of course, she also says that with as much as the Soldiers are learning, there is still much more to learn and not enough time. Even with their classroom instruction, the Soldiers must also take care of their unit responsibilities.
"Probably the hardest part of the Arabic language is the conjugations," Pfc. Zebulon Zilar explains. "In the English language, there's not a lot of that, but in Arabic one word or phrase can have a multitude of meanings depending on how you conjugate the word."
Other students in the class said that remembering words and their meanings as well as the time it took to get familiar with the language were difficult. Of the original 25 students who started the class before the holidays, only 15 are left.
Part of their training included a company level cordon and search situational training exercise lane which allowed the language immersion Soldiers to test their skills. Soldiers participated in role play exercises as interpreters and village leadership within Freedom City. Samarraie was on hand during these exercises to monitor, correct and coach as the Soldiers worked through their ability to translate and interact properly in the mock environment.
The training the Soldiers received will prepare them for one of their many future missions in Iraq, which will include partnering with Iraqi engineers to train them in route clearance and general engineering. The battalion will be working with at least two Iraqi engineer battalions to increase their capability to perform those tasks.
With their new language abilities, the 37th Eng. Bn. Soldiers will be able to fill the gap with interpreter support and allow them to better train Iraqi engineers.
(Editor's note: Dawn Elizabeth Pandoliano of the Paraglide contributed to this article.)