• This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn more.

Foreign language and culture training

xf4wso

Verified Military
Joined
Jun 27, 2013
Messages
81
Location
Turkey
#1
Hello everyone!

I would like to hear from the community about your experiences with language and culture training. In particular, I would be interested in your opinions on how effective is was (or wasn't), difficulties in learning the language, and what you think would have been a better approach. Also, did knowledge of a foreign language make your job easier?

Information on your experiences with any language are welcome, but I am particularly interested in the languages of the Middle East and Central Asia. Personally, I have varying degrees of ability in Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, a little Pashto and a couple of others outside the region. In addition, I have spent a lot of time outside the US, so I am familiar with the problems of both new languages and culture.

As always, keep security in mind, but I look forward to your comments.

Thanks.
 

fox1371

Exitiabilis
Verified Military
Joined
Dec 25, 2008
Messages
1,209
Location
Texas!
#2
In particular, I would be interested in your opinions on how effective is was (or wasn't), difficulties in learning the language, and what you think would have been a better approach. Also, did knowledge of a foreign language make your job easier?
I would be interested in your opinions on how effective is was (or wasn't): Kind of a vague question, but I'll take a stab at what I believe you're referring to. In my experience, knowledge of an applicable foreign language proves/proved to be an invaluable asset. The actual effectiveness was always dependent on the extent of knowledge that an individual had on that specific language.

difficulties in learning the language: This is dependent on the language. I am lucky and have a knack for picking up foreign languages. Some people have to work extremely hard at them.

what you think would have been a better approach: Everyone learns differently, and foreign languages is a prime example. For me, I have to be around those that are speaking it, otherwise I begin to lose bits and pieces. All of my language skills have been gained from being around native speakers.

did knowledge of a foreign language make your job easier?
Of course. I work in the ME and my personal language skills are put to use on a daily basis. Yes, we have interpreters, however sometimes they're just not around when you need them to be. I can think of multiple occasions where the ability to speak at least a little bit of the local language, has helped in diffusing some situations that looked like they were going to get nasty. I have a very simple example...US guy asks local to move their vehicle to another spot. The local doesn't understand and begins to raise his hands in frustration while speaking a language that is foreign to the US guy. A heated argument ensues, that ends up with the US guy pointing a rifle at the local. The local leaves out of fear and the problem is solved via escalation of force. OR. The US guy knows how to speak a little bit of the local language and asks the local to move his vehicle. The local hops in, and off he goes. If he doesn't, proceed to the escalation of force method. However usually it is unnecessary.

You never know how much knowing a little bit of the language may help. In my experience, it is viewed as a sign of respect and intelligence. Who knows, avoiding a confrontation through something as simple as learning a bit of the local language/culture, may very well save your life and the lives of those around you.
 

xf4wso

Verified Military
Joined
Jun 27, 2013
Messages
81
Location
Turkey
#3
I would be interested in your opinions on how effective is was (or wasn't): Kind of a vague question, but I'll take a stab at what I believe you're referring to. In my experience, knowledge of an applicable foreign language proves/proved to be an invaluable asset. The actual effectiveness was always dependent on the extent of knowledge that an individual had on that specific language.

difficulties in learning the language: This is dependent on the language. I am lucky and have a knack for picking up foreign languages. Some people have to work extremely hard at them.

what you think would have been a better approach: Everyone learns differently, and foreign languages is a prime example. For me, I have to be around those that are speaking it, otherwise I begin to lose bits and pieces. All of my language skills have been gained from being around native speakers.
did knowledge of a foreign language make your job easier? Of course. I work in the ME and my personal language skills are put to use on a daily basis. Yes, we have interpreters, however sometimes they're just not around when you need them to be. I can think of multiple occasions where the ability to speak at least a little bit of the local language, has helped in diffusing some situations that looked like they were going to get nasty. I have a very simple example...US guy asks local to move their vehicle to another spot. The local doesn't understand and begins to raise his hands in frustration while speaking a language that is foreign to the US guy. A heated argument ensues, that ends up with the US guy pointing a rifle at the local. The local leaves out of fear and the problem is solved via escalation of force. OR. The US guy knows how to speak a little bit of the local language and asks the local to move his vehicle. The local hops in, and off he goes. If he doesn't, proceed to the escalation of force method. However usually it is unnecessary.

You never know how much knowing a little bit of the language may help. In my experience, it is viewed as a sign of respect and intelligence. Who knows, avoiding a confrontation through something as simple as learning a bit of the local language/culture, may very well save your life and the lives of those around you.

Thanks for the response. Let me try to clarifly my question about effectiveness... What I wanted to ask was how effective you thought your foreign language training was. I completely agree with you about the extent of knowledge. Clearly different people have different abilities in learning a language. As for difficulties, I assume you speak Arabic; did you find it difficult to learn? What aspects were difficult (pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, alphabet etc.)? Did you learn only a spoken dialect or did you also learn Modern Standard?

Like you, my experience has been that even a little language knowledge can go a long way in avoiding or smoothing over confrontations, and earns respect. And, since I believe that you are a Texan, thank you from one Texan to another.
 

fox1371

Exitiabilis
Verified Military
Joined
Dec 25, 2008
Messages
1,209
Location
Texas!
#4
Thanks for the response. Let me try to clarifly my question about effectiveness... What I wanted to ask was how effective you thought your foreign language training was. I completely agree with you about the extent of knowledge. Clearly different people have different abilities in learning a language. As for difficulties, I assume you speak Arabic; did you find it difficult to learn? What aspects were difficult (pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, alphabet etc.)? Did you learn only a spoken dialect or did you also learn Modern Standard?

Like you, my experience has been that even a little language knowledge can go a long way in avoiding or smoothing over confrontations, and earns respect. And, since I believe that you are a Texan, thank you from one Texan to another.
The effectiveness of the foreign language training that I received was horrible. We learned a few quick phrases and we were given a small reference book that we could carry in an admin pouch. The culture training on the other hand, was always outstanding. We'd have role players etc, and we would really get hammered with the idea of the 3 block war.

Unfortunately I'm not yet completely fluent in any language. I am just at a conversational level with Pashtu, German, and Spanish. I can also speak some Japanese, Dari, and Arabic...I can speak enough to keep myself out of trouble at least. The different languages have all come with various difficulties. The writing for Dari/Pashtu/Arabic/Japanese etc has always been almost impossible for me. I couldn't write a sentence to save my life. For everything else, I've always been a huge stickler on proper pronunciation. I will sit there are repeat a word until it sounds the same as a local. Everything else seems to fall into place quite well for me.

Right back at ya fellow Texan. Unfortunately I wasn't born here, but I definitely got here as quick as I could.
 

racing_kitty

Sister Mary Hellfire
Verified Military
Joined
Aug 21, 2008
Messages
4,033
Location
SE USA
#5
Out of four tours, I've only had to sit in on a cultural training class once. Then again, with my first two tours that resource wasn't available to all units. Anyhow, the Arabic that was taught in that class was the Modern Standard. For a general language crash course with a unit that doesn't require anyone to have language proficiency, it's not feasible to get into dialect training for a few reasons (I'll save those for another time, for brevity's sake). For me, it was pretty easy. Then again, my NCO support channel was working on having me take the DLAB before things got too hectic. Arabic isn't easy, but learning your numbers and a few phrases isn't too difficult.

In my case, I had enough time BOG that the cultural aspect was only a refresher course, but for the new kids fresh out of NAVSCOLEOD it was an eye opener. Not exactly the "chorus of angels singing the perfect C-above-high-C chord as the sun breaks over the horizon" epiphany that comes with learning something new and awesome, but it gave them an idea of how not to (or perhaps how to better) step on their collective dick with golf cleats on while working with their Iraqi counterparts. In the interest of disclosure, I was never able to land a deployment to Afghanistan. If anything, I could have bought a summer home in Iraq for all the time I spent over there, but never Afghanistan. So my general assessment is rather brief.

Hope this helps a little bit.
 

xf4wso

Verified Military
Joined
Jun 27, 2013
Messages
81
Location
Turkey
#6
Out of four tours, I've only had to sit in on a cultural training class once. Then again, with my first two tours that resource wasn't available to all units. Anyhow, the Arabic that was taught in that class was the Modern Standard. For a general language crash course with a unit that doesn't require anyone to have language proficiency, it's not feasible to get into dialect training for a few reasons (I'll save those for another time, for brevity's sake). For me, it was pretty easy. Then again, my NCO support channel was working on having me take the DLAB before things got too hectic. Arabic isn't easy, but learning your numbers and a few phrases isn't too difficult.

In my case, I had enough time BOG that the cultural aspect was only a refresher course, but for the new kids fresh out of NAVSCOLEOD it was an eye opener. Not exactly the "chorus of angels singing the perfect C-above-high-C chord as the sun breaks over the horizon" epiphany that comes with learning something new and awesome, but it gave them an idea of how not to (or perhaps how to better) step on their collective dick with golf cleats on while working with their Iraqi counterparts. In the interest of disclosure, I was never able to land a deployment to Afghanistan. If anything, I could have bought a summer home in Iraq for all the time I spent over there, but never Afghanistan. So my general assessment is rather brief.

Hope this helps a little bit.
Thank you for the reply - I appreciate it. Pardon my ignorance, but what is BOG (don't think I heard that one in the Air Force!)?
 

xf4wso

Verified Military
Joined
Jun 27, 2013
Messages
81
Location
Turkey
#12
No, generally Pearl is what you've bought somebody just before they shoot you... sip on that one and think about it for a bit...:-":sneaky::ROFLMAO:
I will, but I think I'll sip a Lone Star, a Corona or anything other than a Pearl while I ponder.... :-o:D
 

xf4wso

Verified Military
Joined
Jun 27, 2013
Messages
81
Location
Turkey
#13
I am still interested in replies to my original question, but I would also like to ask if anyone could comment on SOLT? I have seen the books for several languages; they seem to be a pretty logical division of topics, but it is clear that grammar and pronunciation must be drilled from other sources. I have seen the first six modules for Arabic and am curious how that worked out in the real world. The books teach Modern Standard Arabic, which is great for reading or formal speech, but would be of less use when you need to talk to less educated locals.
 

Crusader74

Verified Military
Verified Military
Joined
Oct 24, 2006
Messages
2,744
#14
I am still interested in replies to my original question, but I would also like to ask if anyone could comment on SOLT? I have seen the books for several languages; they seem to be a pretty logical division of topics, but it is clear that grammar and pronunciation must be drilled from other sources. I have seen the first six modules for Arabic and am curious how that worked out in the real world. The books teach Modern Standard Arabic, which is great for reading or formal speech, but would be of less use when you need to talk to less educated locals.

Try and pick up some phrases, preferably from the Egyptian dialect .. I'm studying MSA with the help of an Egyptian.. Apparently its the most widely understood and known dialect in the ME.
 

xf4wso

Verified Military
Joined
Jun 27, 2013
Messages
81
Location
Turkey
#15
Try and pick up some phrases, preferably from the Egyptian dialect .. I'm studying MSA with the help of an Egyptian.. Apparently its the most widely understood and known dialect in the ME.
Speaking MSA sounds much like speaking Shakespearean English. As for dialects, Egyptian is great - thanks to Egyptian films and TV series it is widely understood. Good luck with the Arabic studies (من تركيا)!
 

xf4wso

Verified Military
Joined
Jun 27, 2013
Messages
81
Location
Turkey
#16
Out of four tours, I've only had to sit in on a cultural training class once. Then again, with my first two tours that resource wasn't available to all units. Anyhow, the Arabic that was taught in that class was the Modern Standard. For a general language crash course with a unit that doesn't require anyone to have language proficiency, it's not feasible to get into dialect training for a few reasons (I'll save those for another time, for brevity's sake). For me, it was pretty easy. Then again, my NCO support channel was working on having me take the DLAB before things got too hectic. Arabic isn't easy, but learning your numbers and a few phrases isn't too difficult.

In my case, I had enough time BOG that the cultural aspect was only a refresher course, but for the new kids fresh out of NAVSCOLEOD it was an eye opener. Not exactly the "chorus of angels singing the perfect C-above-high-C chord as the sun breaks over the horizon" epiphany that comes with learning something new and awesome, but it gave them an idea of how not to (or perhaps how to better) step on their collective dick with golf cleats on while working with their Iraqi counterparts. In the interest of disclosure, I was never able to land a deployment to Afghanistan. If anything, I could have bought a summer home in Iraq for all the time I spent over there, but never Afghanistan. So my general assessment is rather brief.

Hope this helps a little bit.
I forgot to ask - did you find being a woman made your dealings with the Iraqis more or less difficult than your male co-workers? Or was being an American more of an issue? Thanks again.
 

Crusader74

Verified Military
Verified Military
Joined
Oct 24, 2006
Messages
2,744
#17
Speaking MSA sounds much like speaking Shakespearean English. As for dialects, Egyptian is great - thanks to Egyptian films and TV series it is widely understood. Good luck with the Arabic studies (من تركيا)!
شكرا!
 

SpitfireV

Strike first, strike hard, no mercy!
Member
Joined
Dec 15, 2006
Messages
4,083
Location
New Zealand
#18
There's a lot of cultural learning that comes with just the language a lot of the time too...you get into their head and way of thinking.
 

racing_kitty

Sister Mary Hellfire
Verified Military
Joined
Aug 21, 2008
Messages
4,033
Location
SE USA
#19
I forMgot to ask - did you find being a woman made your dealings with the Iraqis more or less difficult than your male co-workers? Or was being an American more of an issue? Thanks again.

No worries. Before I answer, I just want to offer the caveat that EOD techs of different nationalities tend to have the same screws loose to some extent, so our behaviors are remarkably similar depending on the situation, and we give each other an amount of professional respect that is hard to find in many places and harder to describe.

That being said, I wouldn't say that it was more difficult, really. Yes, there was the glaring cultural difference when it came to women's roles in such things (hell, female EOD are rare birds here in the US), but I was able to make it work for me. I was looked at as a novelty the first couple of times that I had to work with my Iraqi counterparts, but we were able to work past that. If anything, when my Iraqi counterparts - and this applied more to the IP (Iraqi Police) than the IABDC (Iraqi Army Bomb Disposal Company) I was partnered with - were slacking off, it was a serious kick in the hajji macho cojones to be outworked by a female, and an Iraqi supervisor would waste no time making them feel like shit for being so lazy. Hey, it worked. There were one or two who ignored my guidance or orders when given simply because of the male/female cultural dynamic, but it didn't last long, especially in the demo pit.

That's not to say that they were all Prince Charming, not by any means. They were soldiers, soldiers are brash and rude on good days. My inherent novelty did result in lots of staring, which happens a lot when you're the only split tail on the entire camp, but it never really got in the way of my mission. Hell, I had to deal with the same behavior out of my escort teams (Infantry, then rotated with combat engineers) for the same reason, so I didn't really notice. We did compare notes on the giving and wearing of engagement and wedding rings in Iraqi vs. American culture, but that wasn't unexpected since I was the only female that would give them the opportunity to ask (I made it a point to wear my hardware when I wasn't doing demo ops, just to get the point across that I wasn't available to be anyone's second/third/fourth wife).

I do have to say that it was easier being the only female dealing with host nation males, as opposed to a gaggle of the beasts in the same situation. The drama is much less, and since I kept my legs closed and my knees clean my compatriots of both nations didn't mind having me around in the least bit. The other female that came on board wasn't as warmly received, but that's another post for another time.
 

xf4wso

Verified Military
Joined
Jun 27, 2013
Messages
81
Location
Turkey
#20
There's a lot of cultural learning that comes with just the language a lot of the time too...you get into their head and way of thinking.
Very true - many daily expressions don't make sense if you don't know something of the culture.