DOD Strives to Promote, Preserve Language Skills

MONTEREY, Calif. — With the Defense Department’s empha­sis on devel­op­ing lan­guage and cul­tur­al skills with­in the force, it’s work­ing hard to ensure those capa­bil­i­ties don’t get lost after stu­dents leave the school­house here.

Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor Joon­ki Baek at the Defense Lan­guage Insti­tute For­eign Lan­guage Cen­ter in Mon­terey, Calif., works with Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Ker­by, from the Utah Air Nation­al Guard, on Kore­an vocab­u­lary via the school’s broad­band lan­guage train­ing sys­tem.
U.S. Army pho­to by Natela Cut­ter
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The Defense Lan­guage Insti­tute For­eign Lan­guage Cen­ter trains thou­sands of stu­dents every year in more than two dozen lan­guages, some that require more than a year of inten­sive, full-time study. To pre­serve those skills, the school is boost­ing its con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion offer­ings, both through class­room and dis­tance learn­ing.

“Lan­guage skills are per­ish­able,” said Mike Vezilich, dean of the con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion direc­torate. “If one does­n’t use the lan­guage reg­u­lar­ly, those skills atro­phy. And that does­n’t take long,” par­tic­u­lar­ly for stu­dents at low­er pro­fi­cien­cy lev­els.

“It’s not like rid­ing a bike that once you learn it, you know it for life,” Vezilich said. “It’s some­thing you have to con­tin­u­al­ly work at just to main­tain cer­tain lev­els, and then spend lots and lots of time if you want to become real­ly pro­fi­cient and gain high­er skills.”

Oper­a­tional require­ments often make that ongo­ing edu­ca­tion chal­leng­ing, whether at “sur­vival” lan­guage lev­els or for pro­fes­sion­al lin­guists, Vezilich not­ed.

In some cas­es, DLI basic course grad­u­ates may have a two- or three-year delay before they’re assigned in bil­lets that require their lan­guage skills, he said. And regard­less of their assign­ment, it’s often dif­fi­cult for their units to release them from their duties for refresh­er or lan­guage train­ing.

So while 100 to 120 stu­dents attend res­i­dent con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion cours­es at DLI at any giv­en time, far more are get­ting addi­tion­al train­ing through dis­tance learn­ing, mobile train­ing teams and oth­er inno­v­a­tive meth­ods.

“We have had to come up with a dif­fer­ent struc­ture in the way we do train­ing, and pro­vid­ing it in the win­dows [of time] that lin­guists have,” Vezilich said.

For exam­ple, DLI now has 26 lan­guage train­ing detach­ments, all staffed by per­ma­nent instruc­tor teams at loca­tions world­wide, he said.

The pro­gram start­ed in 2003 with four detach­ments pro­vid­ing sus­tain­ment and enhance­ment train­ing for pro­fes­sion­al lin­guists. It proved so suc­cess­ful that more detach­ments were formed to offer lan­guage and cul­tur­al aware­ness train­ing to more ser­vice mem­bers.

Mean­while, DLI’s mobile train­ing teams dis­patch wher­ev­er they’re need­ed around the world to pro­vide both post-basic lan­guage train­ing and pre-deploy­ment lan­guage famil­iar­iza­tion.

DLI’s dozen and a half mobile teams typ­i­cal­ly offer two- to six-week cours­es in Ara­bic, Chi­nese, Dari, Per­sian Far­si, French, Ger­man, Hebrew, Hin­di, Ital­ian, Kore­an, Kur­dish, Pash­to, Russ­ian, Serbian/Croatian, Span­ish, Taga­log, Urdu and Viet­namese.

While increas­ing the avail­abil­i­ty and con­ve­nience of tra­di­tion­al lan­guage edu­ca­tion, DLI is using tech­nol­o­gy to reach as many stu­dents wher­ev­er they are, and when­ev­er they have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to study.

Dis­tance learn­ing pro­grams use video tele-train­ing, instruc­tor mobile train­ing teams and a new broad­band lan­guage train­ing sys­tem to deliv­er instruc­tion in 19 lan­guages.

Last year, the pro­gram pro­vid­ed more than 21,000 hours of instruc­tion to near­ly 1,300 stu­dents, Vezilich report­ed.

DLI hopes to increase those num­bers, in part by using broad­band Inter­net tech­nolo­gies to pro­vide real-time, non-res­i­dent lan­guage train­ing.

The vir­tu­al class­room sys­tem is far less expen­sive than mobile train­ing teams. How­ev­er, Vezilich said, it repli­cates much of the per­son­al learn­ing expe­ri­ence through inter­ac­tive fea­tures such as video con­fer­ences, chat rooms, instant mes­sag­ing and online stu­dent-teacher con­sul­ta­tions.

The pro­gram is catch­ing on, enabling stu­dents even in the most remote regions to refresh or enhance their lan­guage capa­bil­i­ties. In fis­cal 2009, it pro­vid­ed 2,400 hours of instruc­tion, but Vezilich pre­dict­ed big growth as more peo­ple learn about it.

“We had matched that num­ber of hours by the third quar­ter of [fis­cal 2010],” he said. “It’s def­i­nite­ly on the rise.”

Steve Collins, an assis­tant provost who over­sees DLI’s con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion pro­grams, said these and oth­er ini­tia­tives advance lan­guage and cul­tur­al edu­ca­tion through­out the force.

DLI has rec­og­nized that it is not just the place for mil­i­tary lan­guage pro­fes­sion­als and lin­guists,” Collins said. “It is also a sup­port orga­ni­za­tion for any­one in DOD that needs for­eign lan­guage edu­ca­tion train­ing and cul­tur­al capa­bil­i­ty.”

And unlike the old days, when Collins said he “felt like a used car sales­man in a plaid sports jack­et” try­ing to pro­mote DLI’s lan­guage pro­grams, he now finds they’re an easy sell.

“Our great advo­cates are those peo­ple that are com­ing back from deploy­ments,” he said. “They see the advan­tage and the impor­tance of this, and what it con­tributes to the mis­sion.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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