Foreign language and culture training

JoesPizza11B

Verified Military
Joined
Jul 10, 2013
Messages
11
Location
Kansas
I know you said you are mainly focused on middle east and Asia, but I thought I would share my experiences form the Horn of Africa anyway. Most of my time there was spent in Kenya. During MOB we had a short culture brief thrown together that ended up being really helpful for interactions with the locals, but the class and booklets we got for language were completely useless. It turned out fine though because almost all the Kenyans knew english very well, so we ended up learning a few "useful" phrases in swahili (mzungu wazimu = crazy white dude) but nothing substantial.
 

xf4wso

Verified Military
Joined
Jun 27, 2013
Messages
81
Location
Turkey
I know you said you are mainly focused on middle east and Asia, but I thought I would share my experiences form the Horn of Africa anyway. Most of my time there was spent in Kenya. During MOB we had a short culture brief thrown together that ended up being really helpful for interactions with the locals, but the class and booklets we got for language were completely useless. It turned out fine though because almost all the Kenyans knew english very well, so we ended up learning a few "useful" phrases in swahili (mzungu wazimu = crazy white dude) but nothing substantial.
Thanks for your response - it is interesting. There seems to be a common thread of reasonably good cultural introductions but substandard language training. Again, I appreciate the response.
 

Salt USMC

Marine
Verified Military
Joined
May 3, 2010
Messages
3,162
Whats your purpose here? Is this for some kind of study, or for your own edification?
 

xf4wso

Verified Military
Joined
Jun 27, 2013
Messages
81
Location
Turkey
:D:D
Whats your purpose here? Is this for some kind of study, or for your own edification?
My own curiosity. I grew up in a very bi-lingual region of the US, and over time have learned (in varying degrees of fluency) and used a number of languages, particularly those of the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as spending much of my life there. Since these are the same regions where the US has been involved militarily, I was curious to learn how US forces coped with languages that are quite different from English, and cultures that are very different from what most Americans are familiar with. I know the challenges and rewards of learning a language and its culture, but I am not in harm's way (most of the time:D). In addition, I have learned where there are a number of free internet resources for some of these languages and would be happy to pass them on to anyone who might need them.

If I were doing a study, I would have been up front with the community and told them from the start.

Hope that answers your questions.

I also thought of another comment for your avatar - "muy guapo".
 

Salt USMC

Marine
Verified Military
Joined
May 3, 2010
Messages
3,162
I would be interested in your opinions on how effective is was (or wasn't): For my first three deployments (All to Iraq) we received cursory language and culture training. This was before the MTT concept was really "a thing", and so nobody gave much thought to that kind of training. Before I headed to Afghanistan in 2012, I spent my own money to learn Farsi from a local language school for about 4 or 5 months, which helped tremendously. Because I was training to advise ANA troops, I was sent (along with a few other Marines) to a course on Pendleton called "Foreign Advisers - Gold". It was approximately four months long, and incorporated some significant cultural training, some basic language training, and comprehensive tactical training. The cultural training paid dividends, but the language training was not enough to be terribly useful.

Difficulties in learning the language: Grammar and syntax with Farsi/Dari is not very difficult, but listening and reading proved to be challenging. Even though they are Indo-European languages, Farsi and Dari are difficult to listen to for most American ears. So attuning your ears to that particular linguistic style was a challenge. The alphabet proved to be another challenge. There's only two vowels in the language, and most of the time they are implied rather than explicitly written out. Even though we received some training in how to read, I was the only one who could do it (Because of the individual schooling I had taken).

While most of the Marines wanted to be a part of the team, there was a general apathy to language learning. It was a sense of "we are going to be talking through interpreters. Why learn the language?". This came back to bite us when we received a new interpreter mid-way through the deployment who, I noticed, was absolutely terrible at translating Dari. He was a native pashto speaker, but deliberately oversold his Dari capabilities in order to get hired. We ended up firing him and getting a new interpreter who was much better.

What you think would have been a better approach: Perhaps designate one guy from each team to receive really comprehensive language training. We found that knowing the language is a HUGE rapport builder, especially in Afghanistan, and not to toot my own horn but my knowledge of the language made me a very effective trainer. I wasn't fluent, of course, but I knew enough to carry on conversations and could conduct tactical translation when it was needed. I made a lot of friends with the Afghans and their officers, and was able to leverage that to get them to listen to the other trainers who maybe weren't as effective.

I know this isn't the most practical solution, but a guy with good language-learning capability can get to 2/2/2 level in under 3 months. Perhaps future teams could take a guy and send him through either a DoD or university language course. He might miss out on some other stuff, but if he's already spun up on how to drive a HMMWV or shoot, then it's easier to focus on the soft skills.

Did knowledge of a foreign language make your job easier?
Absolutely. See above.
 

pardus

Verified Military
Joined
Sep 7, 2006
Messages
9,907
I dont know shit about languages (some Afrikaans that Ive mostly forgotten now), but I was neck deep in foreign cultures several times, all alone (when I was traveling).

Being humble, polite and nice without being a pushover goes a very long way indeed.
 

xf4wso

Verified Military
Joined
Jun 27, 2013
Messages
81
Location
Turkey
I would be interested in your opinions on how effective is was (or wasn't): For my first three deployments (All to Iraq) we received cursory language and culture training. This was before the MTT concept was really "a thing", and so nobody gave much thought to that kind of training. Before I headed to Afghanistan in 2012, I spent my own money to learn Farsi from a local language school for about 4 or 5 months, which helped tremendously. Because I was training to advise ANA troops, I was sent (along with a few other Marines) to a course on Pendleton called "Foreign Advisers - Gold". It was approximately four months long, and incorporated some significant cultural training, some basic language training, and comprehensive tactical training. The cultural training paid dividends, but the language training was not enough to be terribly useful.

Difficulties in learning the language: Grammar and syntax with Farsi/Dari is not very difficult, but listening and reading proved to be challenging. Even though they are Indo-European languages, Farsi and Dari are difficult to listen to for most American ears. So attuning your ears to that particular linguistic style was a challenge. The alphabet proved to be another challenge. There's only two vowels in the language, and most of the time they are implied rather than explicitly written out. Even though we received some training in how to read, I was the only one who could do it (Because of the individual schooling I had taken).

While most of the Marines wanted to be a part of the team, there was a general apathy to language learning. It was a sense of "we are going to be talking through interpreters. Why learn the language?". This came back to bite us when we received a new interpreter mid-way through the deployment who, I noticed, was absolutely terrible at translating Dari. He was a native pashto speaker, but deliberately oversold his Dari capabilities in order to get hired. We ended up firing him and getting a new interpreter who was much better.

What you think would have been a better approach: Perhaps designate one guy from each team to receive really comprehensive language training. We found that knowing the language is a HUGE rapport builder, especially in Afghanistan, and not to toot my own horn but my knowledge of the language made me a very effective trainer. I wasn't fluent, of course, but I knew enough to carry on conversations and could conduct tactical translation when it was needed. I made a lot of friends with the Afghans and their officers, and was able to leverage that to get them to listen to the other trainers who maybe weren't as effective.

I know this isn't the most practical solution, but a guy with good language-learning capability can get to 2/2/2 level in under 3 months. Perhaps future teams could take a guy and send him through either a DoD or university language course. He might miss out on some other stuff, but if he's already spun up on how to drive a HMMWV or shoot, then it's easier to focus on the soft skills.
Did knowledge of a foreign language make your job easier? Absolutely. See above.
Thank you for taking the time for such a detailed response - it certainly gives me a better idea of what you faced in the field. If you don't mind me asking, what motivated you to spend your own money and time on a private language course? Not many seem to have taken that kind of initiative, but it seems to have been worthwhile. Just guessing, but it seems like you have some talent and interest for languages.

Also, do you know of anyone that tried to learn Pashto? Dari is difficult enough, but Pashto has much more complicated grammar.

Again, thanks for the information and good luck with whatever you choose to do in the future. Stay safe.
 

xf4wso

Verified Military
Joined
Jun 27, 2013
Messages
81
Location
Turkey
I dont know shit about languages (some Afrikaans that Ive mostly forgotten now), but I was neck deep in foreign cultures several times, all alone (when I was traveling).

Being humble, polite and nice without being a pushover goes a very long way indeed.
Baie goed! I couldn't agree more.
 

LibraryLady

CrotchedtyOldFemaleVet
Verified Military
Joined
Sep 7, 2006
Messages
4,798
Location
The Last Best Place
I've experienced a variety of cultures, English speaking and non-English speaking; within the US and without. The best lessons I've learned is shut your pie hole, be polite, be humble, do what they do, and eat/drink what they do. Try hard to speak their language and be willing to be spot corrected, and practice, practice, practice.

LL
 

Crusader74

Verified Military
Verified Military
Joined
Oct 24, 2006
Messages
2,766
I would assume considering the vast language resources the US Military has, with the DLI there would be no issue with language/cultural learning ?
 

pardus

Verified Military
Joined
Sep 7, 2006
Messages
9,907
I would assume considering the vast language resources the US Military has, with the DLI there would be no issue with language/cultural learning ?
You'd assume wrong my friend. I know an interrogator that can't get language school even though he's allowed it is as part of his MOS.
We used to have free Rosetta Stone but we lost that too...
 

x SF med

the Troll
Moderator
Joined
Jan 1, 2007
Messages
10,651
Location
Not far from the south of Canada, 'Murica!
SSMP
SOF Mentor
You'd assume wrong my friend. I know an interrogator that can't get language school even though he's allowed it is as part of his MOS.
We used to have free Rosetta Stone but we lost that too...
...and they haven't sent you to your ESL courses yet have they?:sneaky::wall: The Sequestration is not going to help the language/culture training issue.
 

xf4wso

Verified Military
Joined
Jun 27, 2013
Messages
81
Location
Turkey
You'd assume wrong my friend. I know an interrogator that can't get language school even though he's allowed it is as part of his MOS.
We used to have free Rosetta Stone but we lost that too...
That is incredible - any idea what the problem is?
 

xf4wso

Verified Military
Joined
Jun 27, 2013
Messages
81
Location
Turkey
I've experienced a variety of cultures, English speaking and non-English speaking; within the US and without. The best lessons I've learned is shut your pie hole, be polite, be humble, do what they do, and eat/drink what they do. Try hard to speak their language and be willing to be spot corrected, and practice, practice, practice.

LL
I couldn't summarize it any better - thanks for the response.
 
Top