Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast
Results 1 to 20 of 45

Thread: We still don't grasp the value of translators

  1. #1
    Council Member Brandon Friedman's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Alexandria, VA
    Posts
    71

    Default We still don't grasp the value of translators

    Writing for the AP, Jason Straziuso published a troubling piece Thursday morning called, "Many translators unfit in any language." Here's an excerpt:

    U.S. troops say companies that recruit military translators are sending linguists to southern Afghanistan who are unprepared to serve in combat, even as hundreds more are needed to support the growing number of troops.

    Some translators are in their 60s and 70s and in poor physical condition — and some don’t even speak the right language.

    “I’ve met guys off the planes and have immediately sent them back because they weren’t in the proper physical shape,” said Gunnery Sgt. James Spangler, who is in charge of linguists at Camp Leatherneck, the largest U.S. base in Helmand province.

    “They were too old. They couldn’t breathe. They complained about heart problems,” he said. “We almost made a joke of it. We’re almost receiving people on oxygen tanks and colostomy bags; it’s almost getting to that point.”

    And that’s not the worst of it.

    Troops say low-skilled and disgruntled translators are putting U.S. forces at risk.

    “Intelligence can save Marines’ lives and give us the advantage on the battlefield,” said Cpl. William Woodall, 26, of Dallas, who works closely with translators. “Instead of looking for quality, the companies are just pushing bodies out here, and once they’re out the door, it’s not their problem anymore.”
    What I still don't understand is why a military operating in a COIN evironment would attempt to outsource arguably its most important tactical skill: communicating with the locals. We don't outsource any other critical skill in infantry units. The medic? He's not a contractor. The forward observer? He's not a contractor. The grenadier? He's not a contractor. So why are translators outsourced in a similar fashion to cooks and the people who do the laundry? What does that say about our priorities?

    I'm well aware that the length of time to adequately train an interpreter is considerably longer than the time to train an FO or a SAW gunner. I also know that native speakers are not only best, but also hard to come by. But in the case of Afghanistan, we've been there for eight years and have made little effort to emphasize the acquisition of language skills in soldiers themselves. Instead of outsourcing the job of recruiting Pashto, Farsi, and Arabic speakers, why isn't the military recruiting them and sending them to Basic Training or OCS? Why aren't we sending more soldiers to DLI? We've had eight years to work on this, and we probably have at least eight more ahead of us. This is a critical skill that shouldn't be undervalued as it seemingly is now.

  2. #2
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Posts
    1,444

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Brandon Friedman View Post
    What does that say about our priorities?
    I think it speaks more to the available supply and our ability to produce them than to our priorities.

    Quote Originally Posted by Brandon Friedman View Post
    Instead of outsourcing the job of recruiting Pashto, Farsi, and Arabic speakers, why isn't the military recruiting them and sending them to Basic Training or OCS? Why aren't we sending more soldiers to DLI? We've had eight years to work on this, and we probably have at least eight more ahead of us. This is a critical skill that shouldn't be undervalued as it seemingly is now.
    I don't know the answer, but here is one observation that I think sheds some light on it:

    I know several people who either learned Arabic in college or doled out cash to learn through a language school like Berlitz or similar services. They are all earning buckets of money working as linguists for companies who do business in the mideast. I don't think that any of them have any intention of enlisting in the military to take a 90% pay cut, spend 8 weeks in basic training getting yelled at and doing pushups, then go live in some crappy town outside of a military base, and then deploy to an austere outpost in a dangerous locale, rather than being put up in a hotel in Dubai.

    One other observation: the work of a translator seems to combine the dual demands of working in dangerous conditions AND doing a job that does not involve (or at least is not perceived as) movie-like action and adventure. To whom does that appeal? It's one thing to volunteer for a dangerous job in order to fight. It's another to volunteer for a dangerous job to just get shot at. You mentioned combat medics. Most combat medics whom I knew did not just want to treat casualties. They wanted to fight through a gauntlet of withering machine gun fire and slay 20 enemy to get to the casualty and then treat him. That was the vision in their heads when they enlisted. What is the vision in the mind of an individual contemplating joining the Army and then going to DLI? The beach at Monterrey?

    Again, I don't know the solution. But I think the problem is a little more complicated than recruiting 13- and 91-series personnel and thus not the best comparison.

  3. #3
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    8,060

    Default It is far more complicated and always has been.

    There are plenty of good, dedicated linguists in the services -- most of them are properly employed and are not serving as 'terps -- nor should they be. The length of language training for a post pubescent person to get proficiency in a second language starting from scratch is in excess of three years. That is quite costly and to take that person and put him or her in the field with a rifle company in combat would not really be a very good use of resources.

    Train 'em for a year and you get marginal proficiency, do an accelerated course and you get less. That is not to say that everyone shouldn't get some basic phrases, they should and good leaders will make them use them but that's a long way from being a translator or interpreter.

    Language training at DLI (full disclosure; Farsi student there, BCE, here) includes some cultural adaptation. Speaking from experience, that cultural adaptation is mediocre at best -- because the foreign born instructors are not going to tell you all the bad stuff you need to know. I learned more in 30 days in country then I had in a year at the Presidio. I also learned that my language skill was below marginal, not quite laughable to most Iranians but close (they're very polite) -- and that most of the school graduates I met there and in other countries believed the same was true of their experience

    I also spent more time traveling out of Iran and having to deal with Arabic than I did having to deal with Farsi in Iran. Much like a good friend who spent a year learning Viet Namese and a year advising a Montagnard Battalion wherein no one spoke Viet Namese. Or the ASA guy voice intercept guy in Iran who was a Mandarin linguist (he ended up being the Station's chief scrounger)...

    Not to mention that all the training in the world won't give you a sense of the nuances and little clues that a locally born and raised interpreter will.

    Having watch the USG try to hire interpreters in several languages in various locales for combat use and having watched the performance of some so hired, I noticed that not many local really wanted to take the interpreter job because it's dangerous and their friends and neighbors don't approve. I also noticed that among those hired, cases of divided loyalties were quite common -- leading to a high turnover rate. There also seemed all too often to be a lack of quality; since the job wasn't popular, you didn't get the best and the brightest.

    No question that it would be nice to have good 'terps down to platoon level but it's difficult. There are no easy solutions to that -- stick your nose in another nation and that's one of the smaller problems you will accrue. There are other more pressing problems.

  4. #4
    Council Member Brandon Friedman's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Alexandria, VA
    Posts
    71

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Schmedlap View Post
    I think it speaks more to the available supply and our ability to produce them than to our priorities.
    The supply isn't there because we haven't spent the last eight years training soldiers in critical language skills. Hindsight is 20/20, but in 2001, we could've started offering $60,000/six-year signing bonuses for recruits and soldiers willing to learn Arabic/Farsi/Pashto/etc. We could've bought 6,000 such translators for the price of one F-22. We shouldn’t make the same mistake again, in my view.

    Quote Originally Posted by Schmedlap View Post
    I don't know the answer, but here is one observation that I think sheds some light on it:

    I know several people who either learned Arabic in college or doled out cash to learn through a language school like Berlitz or similar services. They are all earning buckets of money working as linguists for companies who do business in the mideast. I don't think that any of them have any intention of enlisting in the military to take a 90% pay cut, spend 8 weeks in basic training getting yelled at and doing pushups, then go live in some crappy town outside of a military base, and then deploy to an austere outpost in a dangerous locale, rather than being put up in a hotel in Dubai.
    That's simply because we're not prioritizing it. Two years ago, I heard a lot about the plan to offer O-3s $35,000 to stay in, but I didn't hear a similar PR push to gain or retain translators with a similar offer. If we want to succeed in this type of environment, we have to pay for it. Again, I go back to the F-22.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    There are plenty of good, dedicated linguists in the services -- most of them are properly employed and are not serving as 'terps -- nor should they be. The length of language training for a post pubescent person to get proficiency in a second language starting from scratch is in excess of three years. That is quite costly and to take that person and put him or her in the field with a rifle company in combat would not really be a very good use of resources.

    Train 'em for a year and you get marginal proficiency, do an accelerated course and you get less. That is not to say that everyone shouldn't get some basic phrases, they should and good leaders will make them use them but that's a long way from being a translator or interpreter.

    Language training at DLI (full disclosure; Farsi student there, BCE, here) includes some cultural adaptation. Speaking from experience, that cultural adaptation is mediocre at best -- because the foreign born instructors are not going to tell you all the bad stuff you need to know. I learned more in 30 days in country then I had in a year at the Presidio. I also learned that my language skill was below marginal, not quite laughable to most Iranians but close (they're very polite) -- and that most of the school graduates I met there and in other countries believed the same was true of their experience
    We were lucky enough to have a DLI-trained Arabic translator assigned to our company for three weeks when we first arrived in Baghdad in April 2003. She was nothing like you're describing. Her Arabic wasn't perfect, but she could communicate adequately for our tactical needs, she was the most culturally aware and sensitive member of the company, and Iraqis were willing to work with her. If she was representative of what DLI is capable of turning out in a year's time, I'd take that any day over what the contractors seem to be providing.

  5. #5
    Council Member IntelTrooper's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    RC-S, Afghanistan
    Posts
    302

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Brandon Friedman View Post
    Instead of outsourcing the job of recruiting Pashto, Farsi, and Arabic speakers, why isn't the military recruiting them and sending them to Basic Training or OCS?
    Schmedlap hit it on the head regarding why we aren't able to recruit many native-speaking linguists into the military. I had an 09L (that's a basic linguist) when we started our tour in Afghanistan. He spoke perfect Pashtu and perfect English. He was 24, in shape and spent time in Konar with the infantry there so he was tactically proficient (his rifle even had better optics than mine!). Unfortunately, he wasn't a US citizen at the time, so he couldn't get a security clearance, which meant he couldn't get an intel MOS. Technically we weren't allowed to use him for certain facets of our job. He volunteered to extend his tour, but no one would let him. It was just too much paperwork. As soon as he got back to the US, he got a job as a contract linguist making three or four times what he made as a soldier. But yeah, no clue why someone like that wouldn't want to join the military. :P

    Think about this: most Afghan expats left the country between the late 1970s and early 1990s. The people who could do that were probably of certain economic status which means they were probably older or the children of someone with such status. These people rarely lived in the Pashtu speaking portions of the country. Need a 50 to 60-year-old Dari speaking Afghan with US citizenship? No problem. Need a young, Pashtu speaking US citizen? Not likely.

    I dealt with this issue firsthand. We were lucky most of the time but I had an interpreter for a few weeks who spoke less Pashtu than I did. The linguist contract managers were ignoring the pleas of the interpreters not to send them to Pashtu-speaking areas because they didn't speak Pashtu. The contract managers turned a deaf ear to their pleas because they thought that Pashtu speakers were trying to hide their ability so that they wouldn't have to go to dangerous areas. Additionally, non-Pashtu speakers were getting help from fellow Afghans during the hiring process, in that they were given ways to cheat during the Pashtu proficiency tests so they would be more likely to get hired.

    So yeah, the situation is f-ed up, but I don't expect it to get better unless we have a mass exodus of Pashtu- and English-speaking Pakistanis to the States (who, by the way, travel back in time 15 years so they'll be eligible for US citizenship by now). :P
    "The status quo is not sustainable. All of DoD needs to be placed in a large bag and thoroughly shaken. Bureaucracy and micromanagement kill."
    -- Ken White


    "With a plan this complex, nothing can go wrong." -- Schmedlap

    "We are unlikely to usefully replicate the insights those unencumbered by a military staff college education might actually have." -- William F. Owen

  6. #6
    Council Member IntelTrooper's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    RC-S, Afghanistan
    Posts
    302

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Brandon Friedman View Post
    If she was representative of what DLI is capable of turning out in a year's time, I'd take that any day over what the contractors seem to be providing.
    I guarantee she's not representative of the average DLI graduate. She may have an unusually high aptitude for learning a second language. It is a half-joke in the MI that DLI only prepares graduates to check the quality of their interpreter.
    "The status quo is not sustainable. All of DoD needs to be placed in a large bag and thoroughly shaken. Bureaucracy and micromanagement kill."
    -- Ken White


    "With a plan this complex, nothing can go wrong." -- Schmedlap

    "We are unlikely to usefully replicate the insights those unencumbered by a military staff college education might actually have." -- William F. Owen

  7. #7
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Posts
    1,444

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Brandon Friedman View Post
    Hindsight is 20/20, but in 2001, we could've started offering $60,000/six-year signing bonuses for recruits and soldiers willing to learn Arabic/Farsi/Pashto/etc. We could've bought 6,000 such translators for the price of one F-22... We were lucky enough to have a DLI-trained Arabic translator assigned to our company for three weeks when we first arrived in Baghdad in April 2003... Her Arabic wasn't perfect, but she could communicate adequately for our tactical needs, she was the most culturally aware and sensitive member of the company, and Iraqis were willing to work with her.
    That is an Apple and Orange Pie in the Sky.

    Apples and Oranges: Downtown Baghdad in 2003 versus Korengal Valley today is like comparing downtown San Francisco to some remote town in the south that doesn't take kindly to non-WASPs.

    Made into a pie: Thinking you're going to get similar proficiency from most graduates of DLI (see Ken and IntelTroop's posts)

    Tossed into the sky: Thinking that you're going to attract people with potential by offering a bonus that amounts to $10K per year for an extended commitment of 6 years when they can go to college, have fun, major in Arabic, and then earn 6 figures without getting shot at.

    Also - a retention bonus to change MOS means that those Soldiers are being taken away from some other part of the Army. In 2001 to 2004, most units were badly undermanned. In OIF I, we had the luxury of stop-loss and stop-move to plus up the unit. My company deployed to OIF III at 80% strength. That was typical for the BDE. I don't think taking thousands more Soldiers away from undermanned units was feasible at the time. The situation back then was also significantly more uncertain, so I would not say "hindsight is 20/20" and then follow it up with "but..." You have to make decisions with the information available at the time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Brandon Friedman View Post
    Two years ago, I heard a lot about the plan to offer O-3s $35,000 to stay in, but I didn't hear a similar PR push to gain or retain translators with a similar offer.
    If a bonus didn't work to retain Officers, then why would a pay cut work to attract linguists?

  8. #8
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Columbus, GA
    Posts
    16

    Default Training: Vietnam vs.Today

    My sense, though I have no definitive data to support it, is that there was a much more extensive program to teach Vietnamese during the Vietnam War than we have undertaken for our current conflicts. I'll do some research this afternoon, but anecdotal evidence from reading suggests SF teams, advisors, MI personnel, interrogators and a host of other personnel all received training and many became quite proficient in Vietnamese and other local languages. In contrast, I know almost no Army personnel in MI, SF or any other branch that have developed any significant capability in Pashto. I am branch transferring to Civil Affairs this year and Pashto isn't even one of the choices for languages, though we can still choose Russian and Korean. There are a total of 8(!) Pashto coded positions in the entire Army (all in the 96th Civil Affairs BN) despite over 8 years fighting in Afghanistan. While not indicative of the total number of soldiers actually training in DLI, those MTOE and TDA positions drive training and suggest to me a singular lack of effort to develop any institutional Pashto capability.

  9. #9
    Council Member Brandon Friedman's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Alexandria, VA
    Posts
    71

    Default

    You guys are saying that we can't adequately hire, train, and retain our own translators. At the same time, the AP is reporting--as is IntelTrooper--that troops in the field say the contractors can't provide satisfactory interpreters, either.

    This means we can't do COIN. I’m going to have a Bill Paxton moment.

    And Schmedlap:

    Quote Originally Posted by Schmedlap View Post
    Downtown Baghdad in 2003 versus Korengal Valley today is like comparing downtown San Francisco to some remote town in the south that doesn't take kindly to non-WASPs.
    That’s absolutely true. I stand corrected on my example. Shouldn’t have used it.

  10. #10
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    8,060

    Default You were extremely fortunate

    Quote Originally Posted by Brandon Friedman View Post
    We were lucky enough to have a DLI-trained Arabic translator assigned to our company for three weeks when we first arrived in Baghdad in April 2003. She was nothing like you're describing. Her Arabic wasn't perfect, but she could communicate adequately for our tactical needs, she was the most culturally aware and sensitive member of the company, and Iraqis were willing to work with her. If she was representative of what DLI is capable of turning out in a year's time, I'd take that any day over what the contractors seem to be providing.
    I'm sure most people would be happy to have someone like that. I do note you only had her for three weeks and while I have no idea why that short time, I still contend that the expense of even one year of Arabic without the intermediate and advanced follow-ons is not sensibly risked at Company level.
    You guys are saying that we can't adequately hire, train, and retain our own translators. At the same time, the AP is reporting--as is IntelTrooper--that troops in the field say the contractors can't provide satisfactory interpreters, either.
    Yep, and as I said, that's been true for many years.
    This means we can't do COIN.
    Not so. Just means it isn't easy and you have to work harder and get frustrated more often. Gray hair makes guys look distinguished. Gives the young gravitas...

    Meinertzhagen
    :
    ... there was a much more extensive program to teach Vietnamese during the Vietnam War than we have undertaken for our current conflicts.
    There was, aside from DLI at Monterey, Anacostia and Lackland, there were subsidiary schools at Bragg and Gordon (may have been more). All ran short six week courses as well as the major locations running the long courses. All assigned to Advisory duty supposedly went to a twelve week Military Assistance Training Advisor (MATA) Course, six weeks of language and six of advisor training, tactical stuff and so forth. IIRC, about two thirds actually got to the Course and most but not all those did serve as Advisors where the language was helpful. The course was not operating early on, seems like it came on line in 66.

    The quality of instruction varied as all instructors are not equal and the quality of graduates varied even more as all persons do not adapt to another language equally well. Notably, as Viet Namese is a tonal language, the native Spanish speakers did better than most anglos. No other local languages were taught to my knowledge except for a little Rhade and Meo briefly at Bragg. As a point of interest, to my knowledge few Infantry Battalions in Viet Nam had or used interpreters (I know of none) but SF, PsyOps and Civil Affairs did. Some turned out to be agents for Clyde but most were straight. Some with the SF teams got to be quite proficient -- they were generally the ones that didn't mind fighting; a trait not all interpreters there shared.

    The MATA course was taught at Bragg by the Special Warfare School and they put some great effort into it. They got help from the 82d who only sent one Bde to VN. This time around they're pulling year on an year off like everyone else plus the relationship now is not as good as it used to be.

    Today SF / SOCOM still have the FID proponency but they declined to operate any courses for other than SOCOM personnel due to mission pressure. They are providing people to assist at Riley and at Polk

    All that was doable then because security clearance procedures could be and were waived, visa issues were ignored and instructors were flown from Viet Nam to the US to teach the classes, pay was outside the norms on the high side and SF fully supported the training mission at Bragg. That and the Army and the government wanted to do it (at least early on). The vastly increased bureaucracy plus current inter agency and inter force parochialism will not allow any of that today. The initial stage of today's wars were not fondly welcomed by the bulk of the USG or the Army; thus VN's 'can-do' was replaced with Afghanistan and Iraq's 'we don't really want to do this' on many levels.

    All those factors combine to make a big difference in what gets done and how. Stupid, but there you are.
    anecdotal evidence from reading suggests SF teams, advisors, MI personnel, interrogators and a host of other personnel all received training and many became quite proficient in Vietnamese and other local languages.
    Be interested to see what you turn up. My recollection is that those with a flair for languages did okay and those the pulled multiple tours where they interfaced with the Viet Namese daily did so as well. For most others, it was a smattering and little more. I suspect your 'host' and 'many' will be overstatements with respect to total numbers deployed to SEA and even to Advisory duty but there's no question that the numbers exceed today's spotty efforts on a per capita as well as a raw basis.
    In contrast, I know almost no Army personnel in MI, SF or any other branch that have developed any significant capability in Pashto. I am branch transferring to Civil Affairs this year and Pashto isn't even one of the choices for languages, though we can still choose Russian and Korean.
    They're still important.
    ...suggest to me a singular lack of effort to develop any institutional Pashto capability.
    True. Consider what you know of our involvement in Afghanistan and of US history, add to that your knowledge of USG bureaucracy and if you're like me you come up with no excuse, we could've done better but we didn't and I know why and cannot fix it and don't think the Army's going to do so in the time we have left there...

  11. #11
    Council Member Surferbeetle's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Posts
    1,111

    Default Languages...

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Gray hair makes guys look distinguished. Gives the young gravitas...
    So that's whats helping me get things done these days...

    I have worked with Arabic, Kurdish, Russian, and Spanish translators...bottom line is that you get what you pay for. In CA land if you are willing to stick with open-source topics and willing/able to pay top dollar you can do well...at the macro level however you need to be aware of the potential implications of siphoning off highly educated local economy individuals from their day jobs.

    Keep in mind that some professional translators, in addition to their language training (4 years +), are carrying masters degrees in translation & interpretation which help them work with business issues and the technology (databases, etc) which often accompanies technical translation efforts.

    As a baseline I did the five month SOLT in Spanish; my understanding is fair and my speaking is poor...2/2/2. 3 years of high school German, 3 years of college German, 4 years on the German economy plus some other German experiences and the result is 3/3/3 (haven't taken the new test yet, but I am curious to see what it offers). A professional translator can clean my clock in both languages....and probably English as well.

    The 10,000 hour rule of thumb is something to think about when considering the services of a professional. For my nickel, Brandon is on the money with this analysis of our ability to develop in-house talent in this arena:

    Quote Originally Posted by Brandon Friedman View Post
    The supply isn't there because we haven't spent the last eight years training soldiers in critical language skills. Hindsight is 20/20, but in 2001, we could've started offering $60,000/six-year signing bonuses for recruits and soldiers willing to learn Arabic/Farsi/Pashto/etc. We could've bought 6,000 such translators for the price of one F-22. We shouldn’t make the same mistake again, in my view.
    Adding a focused Warrant Officer linguist program with opportunities for multiple incentive pay's is probably a realistic long term answer to our current linguist program shortages if we want to have dependable in-house capacity and capability...
    Last edited by Surferbeetle; 07-24-2009 at 03:25 PM.
    Sapere Aude

  12. #12
    Council Member Stan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Estonia
    Posts
    3,817

    Default

    Check out Jedburgh's thread and see just how far we have regressed

    AND, if you think we are in a sad state now, imagine in 94 we could only muster one Lingala translator and perhaps three French speakers while over 4,000 people died per day in Sub Sahara !

    Regards, Stan

    Quote Originally Posted by Brandon Friedman View Post
    You guys are saying that we can't adequately hire, train, and retain our own translators.
    If you want to blend in, take the bus

  13. #13
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Posts
    3,098

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Brandon Friedman
    .....Why aren't we sending more soldiers to DLI? We've had eight years to work on this, and we probably have at least eight more ahead of us. This is a critical skill that shouldn't be undervalued as it seemingly is now.
    Added emphasis is mine. I've voiced my feelings on this board before regarding the short-sighted approach DA took to language training in upmanning HUMINT - which used to be a language-dependent MOS. Rather than repeat myself, if anyone cares they can view those earlier posts here and here.

  14. #14
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    8,060

    Default What if the Boss doesn't ask for the right things?

    Reviewing this thread and Jedburgh's thread some then and now comparisons forcefully smacked me in the face. The difference between the language approach in Viet Nam (which was far from perfect but much better than today's efforts) and the HUMINT Troops lack of a language is simple.

    We used to do what was right; today we do what the boss wants or is presumed to want. Thus my subject line.

  15. #15
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Rancho La Espada, Blanchard, OK
    Posts
    1,065

    Default Brief comment

    In my experience working with native Spanish and Portuguese speakers both as a soldier and civilian, I am more comfortable dealing directly with them with my 3/3/3 Spanish and somewhat lesser Portuguese than I would be having to work with an interpreter. You can usually work through words and phrases that you don't understand better w/o a terp, if your language is at an adequate level and your non-verbal (cultural) communication skills and intuitions are strong. So, the investment, IMO, should be in getting as many soldiers as possible (given the MOS) capable of functioning in the host language rather than trying for the perfect terp.

    Must be the FAO in me talking.

    Cheers

    JohnT

  16. #16
    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Location
    Montana
    Posts
    3,195

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Be interested to see what you turn up. My recollection is that those with a flair for languages did okay and those the pulled multiple tours where they interfaced with the Viet Namese daily did so as well. For most others, it was a smattering and little more. I suspect your 'host' and 'many' will be overstatements with respect to total numbers deployed to SEA and even to Advisory duty but there's no question that the numbers exceed today's spotty efforts on a per capita as well as a raw basis.
    My research tends to support Ken's observations. There were SOME Americans in Vietnam who did well with the language, but they tended to be focused in very specific areas. I would never say there was a 'host' or even 'many' for that matter, and certainly not in the line units, but there did seem to be a more conscious attempt to put the resources out there.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

  17. #17
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    San Diego, CA
    Posts
    54

    Default DLI - Best Language Institute in the World

    They always sell themselves that way and it is true. They are also negligent in their refusal to properly tailor their curriculum, or at least some courses, to the operating forces.

    Whenever you pay people to do language all day long, five days a week for six to eighteen months and provide the greatest collection of native language speakers in one place AND don't give them anything else (college classes, other burdens, jobs to pay college bills) then you are going to have a great capacity to teach languages. That is why DLI is the best in the world and that is also why it is criminal that they cannot do better with what they've got.

    One problem is that the school is only aimed at producing professional linguists in one mold and it is assumed that they will be back for following intermediate and advanced courses, dialect courses, etc. Thus, it focuses on learning a language clasically, stressing grammar, writing etc, to the detriment of being able to actually use it to communicate with people on the street. It is also very focused on listening and document reading rather than conversation and spends a lot of time on creating skills, such as detailed transcription, translation, and other listening skills, that not all linguists will need. I do think that we need to have people who have such a good basis, but the school should have stood up a program more focused on interacting with native speakers shortly after 9/11 to run alongside their main courses. So, you've got HUMINT guys and FAOs who are going to do a lot more face-to-face interaction studying alongside folks who are going to spend their careers listening to recordings and the skill sets are different. If you need operational language capability now, you can't wait to train up a linguist through three separate schools (basic, intermed, advanced). You need to focus the training.

    With regard to Arabic, a major stumbling block is that despite the pleas of operational linguists, highly experienced military language instructors, some native instructors that worked as terps or in their own militaries, and even language academics at other premier institutions, DLI institutionally refuses to move away from the complete Modern Standard Arabic model they've run for years and move toward what many call "Educated Spoken Arabic." Basically, all literate Arabs know how to read MSA and understand it spoken, so it is the language of the press, official forums, etc. If you can speak MSA, almost anyone will understand you. Problem is, most people will respond to you in some mix of dialect. DLI says we can't teach all the dialects, so we won't try at all. However, other schools and agencies recognize that there is a core of common words that a lot of the dialects share and that you can teach a "standard dialect." DLI will have none of it. So, if a DLI grad from the Arabic basic course is stellar and attains a 3/3, which is on the order of less than 10% of the graduating population, from my limited experience, they still won't understand when an Arab in any city says "What are you doing here" because all the words in that sentence differ from MSA to dialect, but they are relatively common between dialects. To give an indication of the problem, the words that vary between MSA and dialect are basic, critical words: to do, to see, to look, to go, question words, negation, now, today, tomorrow, left, go straight, man, woman, etc. If one learns the standard dialect, Arabs will still be able to go deeper into their local dialect and not be understood, but if they want to communicate with you, they will be able to. Not all Arabs can easily speak to you in MSA though, or will try to.

    If the right pressure was brought to bear, the school could be training at least some of your linguists, intel types, and FAOs to speak this standard dialect and could emphasize speaking conversationally over transcription, translation, and other more technical linguist skills, but to date the bureaucracy has successfully resisted.

  18. #18
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    12,279

    Default Where to recruit native language speakers?

    Given that there are refugee / expatriate communities from around the world in the developed / Western world, why can't we recruit from them? I read elsewhere today that 40k Afghans reside in the Ukraine, as a settled community; I concede they may not be Pathans - the current need.

    A colleague who served in Kabul a few years ago referred to working with Swedish-Iranians (as Farsi was close to Dari) and another that Canada has Canadian-Afghans who wish to serve.

    Just seems from this armchair that the responses have been 'stovepiped' and lack imagination.

    davidbfpo

  19. #19
    Council Member IntelTrooper's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    RC-S, Afghanistan
    Posts
    302

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    A colleague who served in Kabul a few years ago referred to working with Swedish-Iranians (as Farsi was close to Dari) and another that Canada has Canadian-Afghans who wish to serve.
    We don't really have a lack of Dari speakers. We need Pashtu speakers, who are more difficult to find. Specifically, Pashtu speakers who are also US citizens.
    "The status quo is not sustainable. All of DoD needs to be placed in a large bag and thoroughly shaken. Bureaucracy and micromanagement kill."
    -- Ken White


    "With a plan this complex, nothing can go wrong." -- Schmedlap

    "We are unlikely to usefully replicate the insights those unencumbered by a military staff college education might actually have." -- William F. Owen

  20. #20
    Council Member carl's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    Denver on occasion
    Posts
    2,460

    Default

    The most distressing thing about this thread is that the "can do" "we'll figure something out" attitude of yesteryear has been replaced by a modern attitude that can't get anything done, even if everybody acknowledges it to be important. And I don't mean the guys commenting on this thread, I mean the gov and military as a whole. There is always a good reason why they won't do it.

    I know this will never happen, but what if you just made a program whereby any soldier who demonstrated a certain level of language proficiency were given a huge monthly bonus, say $2,000? Let the men figure out how they learned on their own. The idea is to motivate the language "naturals" into action. Would that kind of thing be at all practicable, aside from the bureaucratic reluctance?

    Since the F-22 has been mentioned, if you ever really need an F-22, 20,000 world class terps could not substitute. I know the point is about spending money wisely and the F-22 is a shining target but there may come a day...and there will be NO substitute.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

Similar Threads

  1. IO and the Capacity of the Audience to Grasp the Message
    By Tom Odom in forum Media, Information & Cyber Warriors
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 05-04-2006, 02:41 AM

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •