The Time Magazine blog post: The Pentagon’s Foreign-Language Frustrations shows how poorly US military personnel can actually communicate in Iraq and Afghanistan. The news is appalling, but not surprising. The military’s language schools have not been training its few soldiers to speak, but to read and understand. Therefore the small amount of people with language training aren’t used to actually communicating in the local tongue. Ridiculous.
The former CIA Director, Leon Panetta is now the Defense Secretary and he admits, despite all of his lobbying to improve the foreign language skills of US troops, that more needs to be done.
Time contributor Mark Thomspon writes that the US military is ill-prepared to succeed in our foreign wars because the troops are ignorant of local cultures and languages: “we can’t be bothered, basically, to learn the tongue of the societies we are trying to remake – the U.S. military and its leaders remain culturally tone deaf. It happened in Vietnam then, and it’s happening in Afghanistan now.”
From what I know of the Defense Language Institute (DLI) of the US Department of Defense, the emphasis in language instruction has always been on reading and comprehension, not actual communication. As a result, DLI graduates were not always taught how to improve their pronunciation and accent because they weren’t supposed to actually communicate much in their target language. I’ve heard about DLI’s lack of emphasis on speaking and pronunciation both from DLI instructors, students and administrators. Granted, some army linguists are supposed to sit in a cubicle intercepting enemy communications and deciphering them, but what about the troops on the ground? They need to speak and understand. Hello! It doesn’t take a polyglot like me to figure this out. It’s common sense.
Come on US military! Get with the program. Teach your troops to speak and understand. Get them some Arabic, Dari and Pashto music, movies and radio programs so they can know what the locals watch and listen to and be more in tune with the culture.
Songs are cheap.
Talk is cheap.
Human lives aren’t cheap.
The better our troops can communicate, the fewer lives are lost. Plain and simple.