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The Challenge of Language Training

by First Lieutenant Scott C. Hensley

With the ever-shrinking budgets and a tremendous operational tempo (OPTEMPO), language training is becoming more of a challenge to today’s commanders, training officers, noncommissioned officers, and linguists. Soldiers traditionally maintain their foreign language capability by periodically attending a standard foreign language refresher course, usually for a period of two to four weeks. Although this is the pre- ferred method, units sometimes cannot afford to let the soldiers go due to other requirements such as deployments, field exercises, or a personnel shortage. This creates several problems because these courses are usually only taught once or twice per year. Comman- ders must become creative with language training in their units.

First, units with linguists should have a scheduled amount of time per week devoted solely for language training. If your installation does not have a qualified native- speaking instructor at this allotted time, the most proficient soldier in the unit should be instructor- trained and act as the foreign language instructor. Commanders should block this time on the training schedule to eliminate other events or duties that might interfere with the instruction.

Second, use all the resources at your disposal. If your installation has video teletraining (VTT) capability, contact the Defense Language Institute (DLI) for a schedule of upcoming courses. This training provides student- instructor interaction for one to two hours per day, two to three days per week. This training is very structured and is more cost-efficient than sending your soldier to another location to conduct language training. Use field training exercises as an opportunity to conduct foreign language training. If you are in a human intelligence (HUMINT) unit, tell your linguists to conduct their interrogations in the target language. Initially, they may feel uncomfortable, but they will become accustomed to the practice. Remember, “train as you fight”, and your linguists will be conducting interrogations in the target language, not English. If you are in a signals intelligence (SIGINT) unit, send out teams to communicate over the net in the foreign language and tell the voice interceptors to intercept and gist the communications. Remember not to use classified information or specify a country name. Also emphasize that your soldiers use their target language as much as possible around the office; the more they use the language, the more comfortable and natural they will feel communicating with it.

Third—I feel this is the best and fastest way to achieve success in a foreign language—(is total immersion). Two methods can accomplish this: actual deployment and foreign language training in the target country. There are several programs under which soldiers can travel to the target country, take part in foreign language classes taught by qualified native instructors, and take tours of the country. They also can have assignments requiring them to interact with people that do not speak English. Contact your unit or post Command Language Program Manager readiness training (REDTRAIN) or Total Army Language Program (TALP) manager for more infor- mation. The other method is actual deployment. If your unit is going to deploy overseas and does not have a linguist who speaks the required language, contact your supporting MI Battalion regarding linguist support. Interaction with native speakers can be very challenging in a nonclassroom environment, but it is also where you will find the best training. The linguists who deploy with you will be an invaluable tool in communicating with civilians whom you will meet.

The newest, ever-expanding means of individual and group language training is the Internet. There are countless sources on the Internet to improve foreign language skills. They include live radio broadcasts, foreign language newspapers, and educational foreign language sites that provide instruction in the foreign language from beginner to advanced.

This type of training allows the soldiers to conduct language training at home at the pace the linguists feel appropriate and in the areas they feel they need the help, whether in listening or reading. Units with computers and Internet access can also use Internet training as a part of their foreign language training program. Students can print out articles from newspapers or many other resources, and listen to foreign language broadcasts.

The U.S. Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca language team developed and maintains the Soldier-Linguist Homepage that allows foreign language study in many languages including Korean, Arabic, Russian, Spanish, and Chinese. The address for our web page is http://huachuca-usaic. Army.mil/contlearning/ais/inex.htm.For more information, contact Mr. Pete Shaver or the author at 520- 538-1042/1040 or DSN 879-1042/ 1040, or through our website (see previous page).

First Lieutenant Hensley is the Language Team Officer in Charge in the Directorate of Continuous Learning at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He previously served in the 163d MI Battalion in Fort Hood, Texas. 1LT Hensley served as an enlisted soldier for four years as an Arabic Linguist before graduating from OCS. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in German from the University of Missouri.