USAG HUMPHREYS, South Korea -- The 501st Military Intelligence (MI) Brigade hosted its ninth Korean Language Competition and fourth here on Camp Humphreys, Nov. 17-18.
This year’s competition was larger than last year's with 18 teams total, 11 teams representing the 501st MI Brigade, five teams representing the Air Force’s 303rd Intelligence Squadron from Osan Air Base, and two teams representing Special Operations Command Korea.
One of the key considerations for the competition was keeping competitors safe during COVID-19, said Alan Anderson, 501st MI Brigade language program manager. He explained that they had to change both the venue and format for the event before the competition started.
The brigade was given instructions that under the Health Protection Condition no more than 15 competitors could be in a room at a time, which drastically changed the way the competition was to put on. Anderson came up with the mitigation plan of using the brigade’s language lab; conducting events in two locations, with the rest of the competitors watching the action on Microsoft Teams over a video teleconferencing link in separate classrooms.
The competition took place with competitors divided into teams of two. In each team one person was a native English language speaker, who graduated from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, and the other was a native Korean language speaker. Together they worked to overcome four challenges during the two-day competition with the hope of earning medals, trophies, and the bragging rights for being the best linguists of the year.
The first challenge in the competition was the speech portion, during which the native English speaker gave a speech in Korean with the native Korean speaker playing the part of the translator. The topic of the speeches was the methods they use to maintain their language proficiency.
According to one of the teams, the two main elements of maintaining proficiency are frequency using your language skills and repetition using new vocabulary. Several teams mentioned doing hobbies in Korean rather than English as a way to do both. However, teams also revealed an increased difficulty in maintaining their language skills due to COVID-19 and the limitations imposed with increased Health Protection Conditions.
In the second event, the teams played a game similar to Taboo. During this game, one member of the team had to describe words in Korean from flashcards without saying the word, while the other had to try to guess as many as possible before the time ran out. Then they would switch roles. The team with the highest number of words guessed during the two rounds won.
The third event was new this year and incorporated a virtual reality (VR) video game called, “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.” During the game, the teams have to take turns defusing the bomb. One team member has on the VR goggles and a controller, the other has the bomb defusal manual in Korean. The team member with the manual has to explain in English to the other the steps to defuse the particular type of bomb they are facing by describing characteristics and ordered steps to take. Once defused or detonated, they switch.
The final event was in a quiz show format; individuals had to answer questions based on their knowledge of Korean and American history, geography, literature, science, Korean 4 Syllable Idioms, Chinese Characters, Pyeongtaek facts, and comic heroes and villains. During this event, native English speakers competed against each other in the first round, and native Korean speakers competed in the second round.
Anderson explained that commanders have always seen the need for their linguists to hone their skills, which led in 2012 to making the brigade’s Korean language competition an annual event. It was also recognized that due to the importance of the mission and given the joint work linguists do between the armed services, it would be a good addition to include the Air Force, Navy, Marines, and other Army contingents.
So, in an effort to increase esprit de corps among the linguists in Korea, all the services were invited to compete in the competition. Though no one from the Marines or Navy took up the challenge this year, as a former Marine, Anderson said he would love to have some Marines and Sailors come out and hopes that maybe next year they will participate.
Concluding the event, Lt. Col. Nora Flott, commander, 719th MI Battalion, presided over the awards ceremony, congratulating Senior Airman Jaymin Ko and Airman 1st Class Andre Miller from the 303rd Intelligence Squadron as the overall winners of the 2020 Korean Language Competition.
“Linguists are a vital part of our mission, team, and partnership here in Korea and as language skills are perishable it is important that we provide opportunities for our linguists to keep those skills sharp,” said Flott. “The Korean Language Competition gives our linguists that opportunity while also allowing them to build comradery in the joint community they are a part of in their daily operations.”
“Ko and Miller, congratulations and well done for winning the competition, but I am equally proud of everyone that took this chance to excel and to work on bettering themselves and their craft,” Flott continued. “This event was a lot of fun and I hope to see even greater participation in next year’s competition.”
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.