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Thread: A War Of Words

  1. #1
    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default A War Of Words

    19 October Newport News Daily Press - A War Of Words by Stephanie Heinatz.

    The military is using a science fiction-like gadget in Iraq to help troops with few linguistic skills communicate with civilians and Iraqis training in the country's emerging police and military forces.

    Called the Two-Way Speech-to-Speech Program, it's a translator that uses a computer to convert spoken English to Iraqi Arabic and visa versa.

    While the program is technically still in the research and development stage, the Norfolk-based U.S. Joint Forces Command has sent 70 prototypes to Iraq, where troops are using it on the job to evaluate how well it works.

    So far, so good, said Wayne Richards, chief of the command's implementation branch.

    An inability to communicate with the population has been a problem for U.S. troops trying to win support. Human translators are scarce in Iraq.

    The command received an urgent request in 2004 from commanders in Iraq who wanted someone to find a way to bridge the language divide, Richards said.

    The device is being used today mostly for what some are calling the most important job in Iraq: training Iraq's police officer and military troops...

    In its current configuration, the translator is a rugged laptop with plugs for two microphones or two headsets, Richards said, pointing to a prototype and turning it on.

    It's as easy to use as talking on the phone, as was evident after a brief demonstration in Norfolk on Tuesday.

    Say into the microphone, "We are here to provide food and water for your family." Hold down the E for English key on the keyboard. The written text of your words pops up on the screen.

    Scan the words to make sure it picked up the exact wording. If not, change it.

    Hit the T key for translate, and the sentence pops up on the screen again, this time in Iraqi Arabic. The computer then broadcasts the words aloud through the computer's speakers.

    The process is almost the same going from Arabic to English...

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    The thing is no better than a 0+ speaker reciting memorized rote phrases. It does not - and can not - substitute for a the effective interaction of a language qualified individual with his indig counterparts. Despite the time that has passed since we launched, we are doing a very poor job at training key people in the necessary language skills for the COE. In some very important areas, we're moving backwards.

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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    Language and enculturation requires a command level influence and disposition of resources that reflect a respect for the culture of an indigenous population and an inherent respect for the force multiplier being able to walk and talk with native’s means.

    Machine language translation and the tie in of ontological semantics expose several conceptual issues with any translation device. The technologies to accomplish machine translation from one language to another are usually based on discrete rule sets that will not include idiomatic or slangisms that the culture may have invented since the last update.

    Ontological semantical or conceptual analysis definitely helps but the “burr under the saddle” for voice translation will be the “to, too, 2, there, their, they’re, etc…” of the English language. Capturing context, translating context, and displaying context is nearing on impossible between cultures.

    When the Pioneer 11 space craft included the depiction of man and woman with information to find earth the discussion was whether the context was a greeting card or as a menu.

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default Chatty Kathy Translation

    Remember fellow older folks the "Chatty Kathy" dolls? You would (not you but your sister or female cousin. I never touched a doll when I was a manly youngster) pull a ring and the doll would spit out a series of sentences? This is a modern variant and about as useful.

    I agree obviously with Ted and Sel. I have argued this point without success. the problem is that too many folks have never even tried to learn much less use a froeign language--they are the ones who buy in to this stuff. And it gets chalked up as a success.

    Best

    Tom

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    I agree, Tom, but I also think that the American cultural affinity for both the "quick fix" and "technology trumps all" comes into play here. Most people who buy into this have seen one episode of Star Trek too many with the universal translator, forgetting that in any meaningful discussion context is vital to understanding. Each culture (and region/subgroup/whatever) has different contexts for words. Not understanding that, or even being aware that it exists, can be dangerous.

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    Default Actionable intelligence

    When you look at the significant increase in actionable intelligence and calls to the tip line after the Iraqi forces were put in action you get a real picture of the communication problem US forces have had in Iraq. Add that to the problems we have had with the media and it explains many of the frustrations of this war. The device will probably never help in terms of gathering information about the enemy, but it is probably better than staring at each other or yelling something neither understands.

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Blackwater's Solution

    A FIVE day course

    I am on Blackwater's e-newsletter list, got this last night:

    Learn the language -and the culture- then deploy.

    Operators, analysts, military and civilian support personnel working with or deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan have two classes to choose from:

    IRAQI ARABIC from 13 November to 17 November

    PASHTO/DARI from 27 November to 01 December

    INTENSITY— Live and breathe Arabic or Pashto/Dari

    Blackwater Language School provides an intensive language learning environment in which participants challenge themselves and learn at a rate beyond normal limits. This intensive experience has proven to be very successful. Because you and your team-mates have limited time to study the language and culture of Iraq or Afghanistan, we substitute time with intensity. Every student is encouraged to communicate as much as possible in Iraqi dialect Arabic or Pashto/Dari during the entire week-long course. This is no ordinary course of study— it is an endeavor that is emotionally taxing— and rewarding!

    SURVIVABILITY— Cultural Awareness = Situational Awareness

    If you don’t understand the culture, you can cause real trouble. Our team of accomplished staff is dedicated to helping students survive and thrive in the subject culture. A series of cultural activities will take place throughout the program. Students will be encouraged to use their new skills as they eat Middle Eastern meals and engage in situational interviews— in the immersive environment. This highly intensive language environment empowers you to immediately put your language skills into action and test the boundaries of your cultural survival skills!

    At only $1495 per student, space is extremely limited.
    To reserve a space for you or your unit
    Call or email us today!

    That must be some INTENSE training - language AND culture under a week!

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    Quote Originally Posted by SWJED View Post
    A FIVE day course

    That must be some INTENSE training - language AND culture under a week!

    "At only $1495 per student, space is extremely limited."
    $1,495 per student for a 5 day language/cultural immersion class?

    I've got the wrong job.

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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    I got this yesterday and I thought if I post that SWC will have my hide. I wonder if Blackwater would like a Computer Forensics Course, or maybe something in the Information Assurance and Security arena?

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Thumbs down Blackwater Snake Oil

    That must be some INTENSE training - language AND culture under a week!
    And I would judge it to leave the student arrogantly assured that he could determine what is happening when he really does not have a clue to what is going on...this is snake oil sellling. If ignorance is dangerous, false confidence based on training like this only makes for arrogant ignorance.

    For the operators here, answer me this: do you think someone could capture all your years of operational/tactical experience in a 5 day course?

    Why then would someone think they could truly give someone the expertise to reach situational awareness based on a 5 day immersion course in language and culture?

    Answer: they don't. this is another way for Blackwater to make money. And the peeps who offer this crap know it

    Tom

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Tom, your point could be expanded to the academics here as well. Does anyone with any serious historical background really believe that you could cram 20 years of study and field experience with a particular culture into one week? Hmm...let's see...eat Middle Eastern food and listen to Al Jazira at the same time and somehow attain true cultural enlightenment? I don't think so.

    The sad thing is that there are people out there who will buy into this (in droves, most likely), and yet another batch of "Ugly Americans" will hit the streets....

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    Council Member Stu-6's Avatar
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    If I really thought I could learn a language in 5 days I would gladly pay $1495 or more. But I just don’t buy that that would work.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stu-6 View Post
    If I really thought I could learn a language in 5 days I would gladly pay $1495 or more. But I just don’t buy that that would work.
    There are plenty who go to DLI, spend a year and a half or more cramming some of the best language instruction in the world, get paid while they're doing it, and still utterly fail to become proficient in the language.

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default Art

    Jed,

    You are, again, correct. Heck I went through 10 months of Modern Standard Arabic and graduated with honors. The Army wanted to send me to Korea; I managed to coax Turkey out of them as at least it was a Muslim country. A year later I was back taking 6 months of French and again graduated with honors--as preparation for Sudan where I spent 5 months immersed in their CGSC striggling with Sudanese (a derivative of Egyptian) dialect. The first time I spoke French was 9 months after arriving in Sudan when I went to Zaire. All of this occurred from 1982 to 1984; as a FAO the next time I drew an assignement (aside from a tour as a UN observer in Lebanon and Egypt--an assignment that did not require language skills) was in 1993 when I was headed to Zaire as DATT. I got a few weeks of French brush up.

    Language is a tool and mastery is rarely achieved by any government agency. Cultural awareness goes beyond language and is an art. Neither come in a IPOD-like language translator or even 10 months in a classroom. They take years to develop.

    best

    Tom

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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    There are certain emotional and cultural factors if not attitudinal factors that aren't measurable in people that facilitate acceptance and immersion into foreign cultures. Much like Chief Justice Warren said, "I shall not define porn... but I know it when I see it", the personality traits of people who are accepting and able to migrate through cultures picking up language rapidly I can perceive them when I see them. I just can't define them very well. Anybody who has been immersed in a foreign culture where foreign is defined as substantially different and not necessarily defined by political boundaries has seen those who are unwilling through hubris or ignorance to recognize or adapt and those who seamlessly flow and adapt without loosing their identity. Finding those select individuals to guide and lead the rest of us through the minefield of enculturation is incredibly important.

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    Council Member zenpundit's Avatar
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    Default No short-cuts

    "Does anyone with any serious historical background really believe that you could cram 20 years of study and field experience with a particular culture into one week?"
    No. Getting the handle on the basics of just the historiography alone takes a few years, never mind language fluency(!). Acquiring run of the mill expertise in any field- not world class authority, simply acceptable professional competence - according to most educational studies, requires a decade of hard work, practice and research, on average.

    Perhaps this course was inspired by that scene in the Matrix where they simply downloaded information direcly into Neo's brain.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    Tom, your point could be expanded to the academics here as well. Does anyone with any serious historical background really believe that you could cram 20 years of study and field experience with a particular culture into one week? Hmm...let's see...eat Middle Eastern food and listen to Al Jazira at the same time and somehow attain true cultural enlightenment? I don't think so.

    The sad thing is that there are people out there who will buy into this (in droves, most likely), and yet another batch of "Ugly Americans" will hit the streets....
    Nope. 6-9 months of total immersion where all you hear is Arabic and you are begging for food on the street corner would give you a good start. Five days will turn out arrogant "graduates" who have a "licence to practice" but no "ability to perform".
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Default And for the next little tech gadget...

    This story was just posted on CBC.ca

    Scientists create 'invisibility' cloak that bends microwaves
    Last Updated: Thursday, October 19, 2006 | 12:09 PM ET
    CBC News

    A team of British and U.S. scientists has demonstrated the first working "invisibility cloak," although don’t expect it to appear in the Halloween costumes aisle just yet.
    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marct View Post
    This story was just posted on CBC.ca



    Marc
    Saw this on BBC yesterday as well. Joy.

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    Council Member pcmfr's Avatar
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    I'm going to take a slightly different tack here: some language/culture training is better than no training. I doubt anyone who forks out the money to go to these courses is naive enough to believe that they are going to be completely wired to interact with the indig's in these countries, but at least they will give the impression that they have made some attempt to try to communicate in a native language. Yeah, it would be great if every single military, civilian or contractor who deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan was 3/3 in Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, Darri, you name the language, but that just ain't realistic.

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