By Kurt E. Van Slooten, 501st Military Intelligence Brigade PAODecember 15, 2019
USAG HUMPHREYS, South Korea -- The 501st Military Intelligence (MI) Brigade hosted its eighth Korean Language Competition, here, Nov. 22.
Twelve teams displayed their talents in this year's competition, 10 teams representing four of the five battalions in the 501st MI Brigade and two teams representing the Air Force's 3rd Intelligence Squadron.
Contestants were paired together with one native English language speaker, the majority of which attended classes at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, and a native Korean language speaker, who worked together to complete the three challenges in the competition.
"The overall purpose of the competition is to promote linguistic excellence throughout all our units," said Alan Anderson, 501st MI Brigade language program manager. "They are challenged in their day-to-day jobs, but the competition provides an opportunity for them to come out and test their skills against their peers. It also allows them to share learning methodology, so overall it's a good opportunity for our linguists to have fun and test themselves."
The first challenge in the competition was the speech portion, during which the English speaker gave a speech in Korean with their counterpart translating back to English for the audience. The topic of the speech portion was how the native English language speakers maintain their Korean language skills and the methods and tools they use.
Many of the competitors discussed the merits of listening to K-Pop music and watching Korean movies and dramas with subtitles on television or using streaming services, as good ways to stay proficient.
They all consensually agreed the key to being proficient was to incorporate speaking Korean into their everyday life as much as possible. Attending local and regional cultural events, weekend excursions, or just going out to local restaurants with the goal of conversing in Korean with native speakers were all good ways to improve and maintain proficiency in the language.
One contestant mentioned curiosity as a way to gain proficiency. He said never to be satisfied with what you know and to always stay curious. To increase knowledge of idioms, modern contextual usage as well as ancient proverbs as a way to better grasp the ever-evolving culture of their host nation.
The other two events in the language competition were the speed game and a quiz show type game. In the speed game, the paired contestants each took turns describing preset words from flashcards in Korean while their partner had to guess as many of the words as possible within the allotted amount of time. In the final event, the quiz show game, native Korean speakers and native English speakers were grouped separately and only competed against others in their groups.
Anderson said the brigade's Korean language competition has been an annual event since 2012, which program managers saw the need to do something to challenge the linguists. So they organized the competition, which continues to challenge their linguists' skills today.
When asked how the Air Force came to be involved, Anderson explained, "We have always had a close working relationship with the 3rd Intelligence Squadron. They send some of their guys to our training and we send some of our guys to their training, which is how they started sending their guys to our language competition."
At the end of the day, Spc. Alexander Barr and Sgt. Kate Bonner, both linguists from 3rd Military Intelligence Battalion were the overall winners, receiving medals and trophies from Col. Jamie Walsh, 501st MI Brigade commander and Command Sgt. Maj. Kristen Grover.
"I think the competition is a great opportunity to get to know each other and do things in a different environment. I hope that you all found it to be both personally and professionally challenging," said Walsh.
To expand upon that, Walsh said that they have an incredible opportunity to be able to walk out the front gate and practice their language skills in their daily lives. To learn the dialects and phraseology and how people use it and then use that experience to advance their abilities at work as linguists. He emphasized that it is not an opportunity that is available to all linguists at their duty stations, so he encouraged them to take advantage of the immersive opportunity that they are afforded here in Korea.
The 501st Military Intelligence Brigade provides indications and early warning of actions by opposing forces that could threaten the tense but stable peace in the Republic of Korea. In the event of hostilities, the brigade's mission shifts to providing combined, multi-discipline intelligence and force protection support to the United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command, the CFC Ground Component Command and their subordinate units.