US: Official Responds to Congressional Findings on Military Linguistics

interpreterman at interpreterman at
Fri Dec 12 23:15:16 UTC 2008

Does anybody have a link to this Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, by any chance?
Dan V.
Taipei, Taiwan

a language plan launched four years
go. Known as the Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, the broad
trategy aims to address national shortfalls in foreign language
kills in the United States.

-----Original Message-----
From: Harold Schiffman <hfsclpp at>
To: lp <lgpolicy-list at>
Sent: Fri, 12 Dec 2008 10:28 am
Subject: US: Official Responds to Congressional Findings on Military Linguistics

Official Responds to Congressional Findings on Military Linguistics
y John J. Kruzel
merican Forces Press Service
Dec. 11, 2008 - A congressional assessment of how the Pentagon is
mplementing its language strategy reflects the Defense Department's
rogress and shortfalls, a Pentagon official said yesterday. "I think
he House Armed Services Committee report accurately reflects the
rogress that we've made," said Gail McGinn, deputy undersecretary of
efense for plans. "It also talked about some of the things that we
aven't quite accomplished yet, which we knew."
The report, released last month, acknowledges that the department and
he services are taking additional action to complement the 90-percent
ompleted tasks it outlined in a language plan launched four years
go. Known as the Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, the broad
trategy aims to address national shortfalls in foreign language
kills in the United States.
But one of the report's findings is that "inconsistencies" exist in
he way the department and the
 services are approaching language
The report recommends that the dpartment should clarify its policy
haracterizing foreign language, regional expertise, and cultural
wareness as critical or core competencies essential to its missions
s a way to establish greater consistency.
McGinn said the services' leaders understand the importance of foreign
anguages, but that the demands of language training – an Arabic
ourse lasts 63 weeks, for example – places difficulty on a force with
inite manning.
"When you talk about wanting to get more language capability in your
fficer corps, it's hard to conceive of that in an officer's career,"
he said in an interview at the Pentagon yesterday.
To mitigate this, the department has begun focusing on pre-accession
ducation, meaning academics undertaken before becoming a military
ervicemember, she said. The idea is that troops would enter the force
aving completed previous language training.
As part of this transformation, all three service academies now
eature more robust strategic language and cultural program offerings.
s a result, more cadets and midshipmen are studying languages of
trategic importance. ROTC programs also reap the benefits, with
tudents enjoying a wider array of destinations for study abroad.
eyond pure language know-how, McGinn said, the military hopes to
nstill cultural and regional expertise in servicemembers, which often
equire less labor-intensive instruction and time than language
"There's an issue of striking the right balance: we need cultural
we need regional expertise and we need foreign
anguage," she said. "We need to figure out how to fit all of that
nto the force, and that is still a work in progress."
To ensure that the language transformation occurs smoothly and
uccessfully, the department has appointed senior language authorities
n each of the military services and agencies to conduct oversight,
xecution and planning. McGinn said she meets regularly with these
epresentatives to best determine how to steer policy.
"We want them to know what is needed, what capability already exists,
nd they also help me formulate policies and programs," she said of
enior language authorities.
Anther measure of transformational progress is the department's
stablishment of centers of excellence in each military service to
versee and standardize training and impart essential and
ission-targeted cultural training.
Pentagon officials also increased the Defense Language Institute
oreign Language Center's funding from a fiscal 2001 budget of $77
illion to $270 million this fiscal year. DLIFLC, located in Monterey,
alif., is the department's premiere language and cultural training
McGinn said the overall goals are three-fold: more foundational and
trategic language expertise in the force, the ability to obtain
xpertise in a language if needed at short notice, and to develop a
adre of linguists with higher-level language skills.
The upshot of foreign language and cultural expertise is that it helps
.S. servicemembers communicate, negotiate and set goals with foreign
artners. It also helps tro
ops avoid pitfalls that often surround
anguage barriers.
In American military lingo, for example, the term "field of fire"
efers to area in which a person can be engaged by weaponry. "Someone
n another culture might see that as a burning wheat field," McGinn
ointed out. "And that's not what you mean at all when you said those
The maxim "know a language and understand what someone says, but know
 culture and understand what someone means" rings true in this
xample. Unfortunately, U.S. education does not greatly emphasize the
tudy of foreign language and culture, the report notes.
"One problem pointed out in the report is that the American
ducational system really isn't where we would hope it would be in
erms of producing high school grads with foreign language ability,"
cGinn said. "We are not robust in strategic languages like Arabic and
As the committee report states, "The military's lack of language
kills and cultural expertise is a symptom of the larger problem
acing the nation as a whole."
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