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Languages Help Improve Military, International Relations

Souzy Guirguis teaches military students in Egyptian dialect at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (Courtesy - DLI).
Souzy Guirguis teaches military students in Egyptian dialect at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (Courtesy - DLI).
US Soldiers Study Foreign Languages and Cultures To Improve Relations
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A decision made by a soldier during battle can have a national and international political, social and cultural effect.

When the decision is a poor one it can damage the credibility of the operation.

U.S. Army Colonel Philip J. Deppert works to help soldiers avoid tactical mistakes. Deppert is the commanding officer of the Defense Language Institute (DLI), in Monterey, California. He told VOA that cultural education is a major part of the institute’s educational programs.

Deppert said DLI is famous around the world for producing well-trained military linguists who understand both the language and the culture of a country.

The United States -- and specifically our military -- understands that in order to be the best partner with all nations around the world we not only have to understand the language but the culture embedded with that as well,” he said.

About 3,500 soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen and civilians attend DLI. Their agencies pay for their study.​

DLI diplomacy

Wherever there is a U.S. embassy, there is a U.S. military representative who trained at DLI.

Air Force Major Braden Coleman is a foreign affairs officer. Six months ago, he began learning the Urdu language at DLI in preparation for his deployment to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

He said DLI is “preparing me to work at the embassy and to help with relations. So I will be in the program for at least the next four years.”

The DLI has about 1,800 specially trained teachers. Almost all of them are native speakers of the language they teach.

Isabella Christopher teaches her students the Urdu language and the culture of Pakistan. She has worked at DLI for about five years. She said “if we tell someone that our students learn a language in nine months, or 35 weeks, or 47 weeks, nobody believes that.”

Emphasis on culture

In addition to native speakers, DLI students also learn from U.S. military teachers who are educated in languages. U.S. Army Sergeant Garrick Bartlett received four years of education in the Pashto language before he became a teacher at DLI.

He said his “primary role is to help bridge the gap between Pashto and English, coming from that of an English native-speaker’s background.”

DLI has separate schools that focus on different areas of the world.

William Sameer al-Wahab heads one of the institute’s Middle East Schools. He said the training permits students to communicate on at least a basic level with people who live and work in the areas where they are deployed.

“Once the population feels that the soldiers are speaking their language, they will try to do the same thing and be very helpful,” he said.

Total immersion

Besides language training, students are also sent to what DLI calls the Immersion Facility. There, they experience possible real-life situations. They are not permitted to speak English. They wear local clothing and communicate in the target language.

The Obama administration is broadening the U.S. military campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. U.S. special operations forces are to advise local U.S. allies. DLI will likely play a major part in that effort.

Colonel Deppert said DLI would not send students from the school unless it believes they are fully prepared. He said the training center can show proof of how well prepared its linguists are.

He said the school has “linguists right now in Japan helping with earthquake relief in that country.”

I’m Caty Weaver.

Hasib Danish Alikozai reported this story for VOA. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. Christopher Jones-Cruise was the editor.

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Words in This Story

credibility n. the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real or honest

tactical adj. of, relating to or used for a specific plan that is created to achieve a particular goal in war, politics, etc.

linguist n. a person who speaks or studies languages

specifically adv. in a definite and exact way

embed – v. to place or set (something) firmly in something else; to be a part of (often used figuratively)

focus v. to direct your attention or effort at something specific