US: Official Responds to Congressional Findings on Military Linguistics

interpreterman at interpreterman at
Sat Dec 13 05:49:03 UTC 2008

 I think the main issues for the force to make this work will be:
1.) Command Emphasis, and 
2.) Making languages and other folks' cultures important, as part of the corporate cultures of the armed forces (see # 1!).

 Dan V.


-----Original Message-----
From: Harold Schiffman <haroldfs at>
To: lgpolicy-list at
Sent: Fri, 12 Dec 2008 5:45 pm
Subject: Re: US: Official Responds to Congressional Findings on Military Linguistics

I just googled it and found this:
Looks pretty explicit!
On Fri, Dec 12, 2008 at 6:15 PM,  <interpreterman at> wrote:> Does anybody 
have a link to this Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, by> any chance?> 
Dan V.> Taipei, Taiwan>> a language plan launched four years> ago. Known as the 
Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, the broad> strategy aims to address 
national shortfalls in foreign language> skills 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> By John J. 
Kruzel> American Forces Press Service>> Dec. 11, 2008 - A congressional 
assessment of how the Pentagon is> implementing its language strategy reflects 
the Defense Department's> progress and shortfalls, a Pentagon official said 
yesterday. "I think> the Hous
e Armed Services Committee report accurately 
reflects the> progress that we've made," said Gail McGinn, deputy undersecretary 
of> defense for plans. "It also talked about some of the things that we> haven't 
quite accomplished yet, which we knew.">> The report, released last month, 
acknowledges that the department and> the services are takin> g additional 
action to complement the 90-percent> completed tasks it outlined in a language 
plan launched four years> ago. Known as the Defense Language Transformation 
Roadmap, the broad> strategy aims to address national shortfalls in foreign 
language> skills in the United States.>> But one of the report's findings is 
that "inconsistencies" exist in> the way the department and the services are 
approaching language> transformation.>> The report recommends that the dpartment 
should clarify its policy> characterizing foreign language, regional expertise, 
and cultural> awareness as critical or core competencies essential to its 
missions> as a way to establish greater consistency.>> McGinn said the services' 
leaders understand the importance of foreign> languages, but that the demands of 
language training – an Arabic> course lasts 63 weeks, for example – places 
difficulty on a force with> finite manning.>> "When you talk about wanting to 
get more language capability in your> officer corps, it's hard to conceive of 
that in an officer's career,"> she said in an interview at the Pentagon 
yesterday.>> To mitigate this, the department has begun focusing on 
ccession> education, meaning academics undertaken before becoming a 
military> servicemember, she said. The idea is that troops would enter the 
force> having completed previous language training.>> As part of this 
transformation, all three service academies now> feature more robust strategic 
language and cultural program offerings.> As=2> 0a result, more cadets and 
midshipmen are studying languages of> strategic importance. ROTC programs also 
reap the benefits, with> students enjoying a wider array of destinations for 
study abroad.> Beyond pure language know-how, McGinn said, the military hopes 
to> instill cultural and regional expertise in servicemembers, which often> 
require less labor-intensive instruction and time than language> training.>> 
"There's an issue of striking the right balance: we need cultural> 
understanding, we need regional expertise and we need foreign> language," she 
said. "We need to figure out how to fit all of that> into the force, and that is 
still a work in progress.">> To ensure that the language transformation occurs 
smoothly and> successfully, the department has appointed senior language 
authorities> in each of the military services and agencies to conduct 
oversight,> execution and planning. McGinn said she meets regularly with these> 
representatives to best determine how to steer policy.>> "We want them to know 
what is needed, what capability already exists,> and they also help me formulate 
policies and programs," she said of> senior language authorities.>> Anther 
measure of transform
ational progress is the department's> establishment of 
centers of excellence in each military service to> oversee and standardize 
training and impart essential and> mission-targeted cultural training.>> 
Pentagon officials also increased the Defense Language Institute> Foreign 
Language Center's funding from a fiscal 2001 budget of $> 77> million to $270 
million this fiscal year. DLIFLC, located in Monterey,> Calif., is the 
department's premiere language and cultural training> center.>> McGinn said the 
overall goals are three-fold: more foundational and> strategic language 
expertise in the force, the ability to obtain> expertise in a language if needed 
at short notice, and to develop a> cadre of linguists with higher-level language 
skills.>> The upshot of foreign language and cultural expertise is that it 
helps> U.S. servicemembers communicate, negotiate and set goals with foreign> 
partners. It also helps troops avoid pitfalls that often surround> language 
barriers.>> In American military lingo, for example, the term "field of fire"> 
refers to area in which a person can be engaged by weaponry. "Someone> in 
another culture might see that as a burning wheat field," McGinn> pointed out. 
"And that's not what you mean at all when you said those> words.">> The maxim 
"know a language and understand what someone says, but know> a culture and 
understand what someone means" rings true in this> example. Unfortunately, U.S. 
education does not greatly emphasize the> study of foreign language and culture, 
the report=2
0notes.>> "One problem pointed out in the report is that the American> 
educational system really isn't where we would hope it would be in> terms of 
producing high school grads with foreign language ability,"> McGinn said. "We 
are not robust in strategic languages like Arabic and> Chinese.">> As the commi> 
ttee report states, "The military's lack of language> skills and cultural 
expertise is a symptom of the larger problem> facing the nation as a whole.">>>> 
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-- =+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+
 Harold F. Schiffman
Professor Emeritus of Dravidian Linguistics and CultureDept. of South Asia 
StudiesUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia, PA 19104-6305
Phone:  (215) 898-7475Fax:  (215) 573-2138
Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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