How the military improved its language education

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30 Responses to “How the military improved its language education”

  1. kristen says:

    It’s important to note that this type of training is critical not only in conflict-ridden environments, but also in relief efforts such as those in Haiti and Guatemala: http://usg.transparent.com/
    Transparent Language is one of the biggest providers of language and cultural training for the military: http://www.transparent.com/government/

  2. rikomatic says:

    A really interesting and insightful article, thank you!

    Another aspect of using gaming and virtual environments for training is that they provide for endless repeat iterations of scenarios.

    One obvious benefit is that in a virtual recreation the price of failure is just to hit “try again” instead of someone getting shot or blown up.

    But also an immersive environment can give the soldier a more systemic understanding of what particular phrases mean in context — i.e. a simulated marketplace, cafe or mosque.

    Finally, through the role-playing aspects of games and VWs, the soldier can learn what it might be like to be a noncombatant and have foreign soldiers enter your home or business, or even to be “the enemy.”

    Lots of great learning opportunities from these new tools for our troops (and anyone, really.)

  3. Felix Mitchell says:

    I like the little hat and glasses checkboxes in the game screenshot. Odd there’s no shoes box.

  4. Kerov says:

    I’m very happy to see that the US military is finally starting to realize that it’s at least as important to know how to communicate with people as it is to know how to kill them.

    The bad old days, where soldiers spent weeks learning to shoot, and mere minutes (if that) learning a local word or two seem to be on the way out.

    It doesn’t solve the problem of US military gigantism, but it begins to reduce the harm.

  5. InsertFingerHere says:

    This is more like “Know thy enemy” stuff, because urban warfare is now the norm.

    Can’t tell the players without a program.

  6. Anonymous says:

    As a linguistics student, I find this interesting. They are using state of the art CALL programs to teach communication. However, the language acquisition techniques being employed are from the behaviorist and audio-lingual schools of thought. These methods of language acquisition were scientifically proven to be ineffective in the late 1950s and were buried by language teaching specialists. Language acquisition techniques based on the ideas of Chomsky’s Transformational Generative Grammar and Dell Hymes’ theory of Communicative Competence have been proven to be far more effective. Of course, the Behaviorists have always been more preoccupied with controlling people’s minds and I doubt if military linguists would have bothered to read Chomsky or Hymes.

  7. Shroomy says:

    Good thing they’re doing this now, 7 years into the occupation.

    Great Job!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’d prefer having monolingual troops, if it meant that they would stop leaving our country to imprison, kill, and torture people outside of our country. I have trouble supporting ways to make illegal and aggressive warfare more efficient and culturally sensitive.

    • Anonymous says:

      Anon #7 said “I’d prefer having monolingual troops, if it meant that they would stop leaving our country to imprison, kill, and torture people outside of our country. I have trouble supporting ways to make illegal and aggressive warfare more efficient and culturally sensitive.”

      I’d offer to you that the vast majority of soldiers don’t particularly want to be there, and most will never fire their weapon, kill, imprison, or torture anyone.

      I conducted more than 200 dismounted patrols with the Iraqi Army while there, was shot by insurgents, but never fired my weapon outside of the range.

      On the other hand, the more we do to educate young men and women that the world is full of different people with different beliefs and different languages–not better or worse, just different–the better chance they have of seeing Iraqis or Afghanis as people and not just a bunch of religious terrorists waiting to kill them.

      Programs like Tactical Iraqi provide servicemen and women with the skills needed to move beyond the barriers of language and context so they can find ways to build rapport and empathy, not to make war more efficient but to make creating a peace we can live with more efficient so we can come home.

      If we want to be more efficient at killing, then our time is better spent on the range.

  9. desprez says:

    It’s extremely interesting to see a whole culture broken down into a cheat sheet.

    Now, where can I find an a card with American culture given a similar treatment. It would be interesting to see how we look to Iraqis.

  10. Spikeles says:

    Reminds me of the old WW2 guides… Pocket Guide to Australia 1946 (more down the bottom)

    • Anonymous says:

      As an Australian myself, the blatant racism towards Aborigines in that book made me die a little inside. I know given that it was from 1946 I could’ve expected it, but still….

  11. Yao Ziyuan says:

    I admit the virtual-world approach is probably the best for domain-specific language/culture acquisition (e.g. for the military).

    In more general-purpose language acquisition, however, I think artificial virtual worlds are very limited. A person’s daily native language communication, such as native language Web pages that he browses, is actually a broader “virtual world” in which the computer can select a native language word and teach its foreign language counterpart from time to time. This is detailed in Section 1.1.1 “Automatic Code-Switching” of my free ebook “Breaking the Language Barrier: A Game-Changing Approach”, http://sites.google.com/site/yaoziyuan/publications/books/breaking-the-language-barrier-a-game-changing-approach .

    In the ebook there is also an obscure yet very effective approach to word memorization, Section 1.1.2.1 “Phonetics-Enhanced English”.

  12. OrcOnTheEndOfMyFork says:

    Good thing they’re doing this now, 7 years into the occupation.

    Great Job!

    To be fair, they had only planned to be there 6 weeks.

    lolRumsfeld.

  13. Yao Ziyuan says:

    Say, if a German is reading a German Web page which has this sentence:

    Er ist ein guter Schüler.
    (German for “He is a good student.”)

    a browser add-on can select a word, e.g. “Schüler”, and insert its English counterpart “student” after it, automatically transforming the Web page to:

    Er ist ein guter Schüler (student).

    After several times of such teaching, the computer can directly replace future occurrences of “Schüler” with “student”, to practice the German user’s knowledge of the newly learned English word “student”:

    Er ist ein guter student.

    For more details, see the ebook above.

  14. Nadreck says:

    If you can find it, US military training materials are always the best, no-bullshit stuff around. As the article says, the price of failing to learn something in the military is often death. This price is often emphasised in the material. For example, I’ve seen an old Naval pamphlet explaining grammar basics not as arcane rules, but as a means of clearly communicating so that you don’t die because someone misunderstands what you’re saying. (Eg. “Our patrol the enemy did defeat.”)
    I find the most useful ones are ones that teach everyday skills to people with an uncertain educational background in a hurry. These are things people usually learn slowly through trial-and-error and osmosis; but there’s no time for that in basic training. I learned to properly use a mop and bucket from a US Marine core manual. I’d spent a decade just pushing the dirt around before that.
    On a related note, in University I passed Statistics because I found some English translations of Soviet statistics texts. The old USSR was run on statistics and these things were aimed at teaching things like “moment statistics” to tractor drivers. They had a program whereby they translated all their undergraduate texts to other languages and distributed them from their embassies.

  15. olegonzo says:

    That thing about the color of the headdresses is nonsense. If anything the all-white headdress is a mark of piety (without the head-band) and would suggest that the person has been on Hajj (if it’s a white headdress without the headband). The pattern headdress does not suggest anything. The black-and-white headdress vs the red-and-white might suggest where the person is from — that’s about it.

  16. olegonzo says:

    That thing about the color of the headdresses is nonsense. If anything the all-white headdress is a mark of piety (without the head-band) and would suggest that the person has been on Hajj (if it’s a white headdress without the headband). The pattern headdress does not suggest anything. The black-and-white headdress vs the red-and-white might suggest where the person is from — that’s about it.

  17. Ernunnos says:

    It’s often been said that the U.S. has wars in order to bring culture to the masses. A lot of men who wouldn’t have travelled much outside of the county where they were born got to see the world that way. Looks like more of the same tradition.

    • Anonymous says:

      There’s nothing harder than attempting to immerse yourself in the very culture you are in the process of destroying.

  18. hadlock says:

    “We may ask why the US sends troops abroad, but the fact is that we do send large numbers into a region”

    Fun fact, we spend more on our military in Afghanistan in 2 months than the entire GDP of Afghanistan for an entire year.

  19. Anonymous says:

    A company is using the same technology to teach American Indian languages.

    The project is called RezWorld (rez is short for reservation)

    http://www.ndnlanguage.com/rezworld_3D.html

  20. Anonymous says:

    As a linguist and President of the Accent Reduction Institute, which provides language training to the US Department of Defense, I find the relationship between language learning and cultural competency a critical one. Research in the area of socio-linguistics demonstrate that ‘best practices’ for learning a second language include developing a deep cultural understanding of the people who speak that language; the more we learn about an unfamiliar culture and its language speakers, the faster we become proficient in the second language. Part of the neuro-linguistic process of language acquisition depends on experiencing an emotional response, positive or negative, when we first hear a new word or phrase.

    In terms of the military’s approach to achieving operational objectives through linguistic competency, it may be interesting to note that the military is now providing accent comprehension classes as part of pre-deployment training. The goal is to enable servicemen and women to engage in conversation with foreign nationals without having to ask, “Excuse me? What did you say?” To learn more: http://www.lessaccent.com.

  21. Anonymous says:

    What’s next, the SS guide to Jewish Culture? This is about the same…seeing AmerKKKan $oldiers learn just enough to operate so they can exterminate the smelly foreigners.

  22. Anonymous says:

    As a language teacher I found it fascinating how tightly this material binds content with goal. Unless you’re highly curious (and most of us aren’t) you need to be convinced that new information is worth learning. In this material the military have done exactly that.
    The problem with teachers (speaking as one) is that we assume our love of learning is shared by our students. Most of the time it isn’t. So the trick is to tie the students’ interests to what needs to be learnt: fear of dying works pretty well.
    Mo in Berlin

  23. eddieduggan says:

    War: God’s way of teaching Americans geography.

  24. kasadit says:

    nice job haha

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