How U.S. Military Linguists Learn Languages Fast

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How U.S. Military Linguists Learn Languages Fast

Postby Kraut » Tue Oct 26, 2021 9:56 pm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pi5taR18uZ8
Olly Richards

How U.S. Military Linguists Learn Languages Fast


United States Military Linguists are known for being among the fastest language learners in the world. But speed is certainly not the only goal. From gathering critical intelligence to supporting troops on the frontlines, a lot rests on the language skills of linguists in the U.S. Armed Forces.

So how do linguists in the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy learn the language skills they need to do their jobs? That is precisely what I wanted to find out, so I reached out to two graduates of the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, California: Elle and Jack.

This video details the incredibly intense programmes these service members complete, including interesting techniques like “iso-immersion” and “scream & scribble”. While only a select few can attend DLI, there are some powerful principles in this video that ALL language learners can apply. Hooah!
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Re: How U.S. Military Linguists Learn Languages Fast

Postby Leurre » Wed Oct 27, 2021 6:06 am

Thanks for sharing. I've always liked the idea of this type of immersive, super-intensive and long language learning, and like quite a few others I'm sure, have daydreamed about getting to attend without having to join the armed forces.
I will say though that those graduates of this school in the Korean programme that I have met (already maybe 10 years ago) did not necessarily have the highest of levels. To give you an idea, they were at about level 4 of 6 in the Korean test-taking system (whatever it is, topik or something), which I remember feeling rather low for that much time spent on it (in contrast you can finish up to the highest level in about 60 weeks of study in a Korean language institute, at around 4 hours a day). At any rate nowhere close to the 'near native' level that person speaks about in the video. So I guess people's mileage varies in terms of the levels that come out of this, or maybe it varies by level, or by language.
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Re: How U.S. Military Linguists Learn Languages Fast

Postby bolaobo » Wed Oct 27, 2021 4:47 pm

Leurre wrote:Thanks for sharing. I've always liked the idea of this type of immersive, super-intensive and long language learning, and like quite a few others I'm sure, have daydreamed about getting to attend without having to join the armed forces.
I will say though that those graduates of this school in the Korean programme that I have met (already maybe 10 years ago) did not necessarily have the highest of levels. To give you an idea, they were at about level 4 of 6 in the Korean test-taking system (whatever it is, topik or something), which I remember feeling rather low for that much time spent on it (in contrast you can finish up to the highest level in about 60 weeks of study in a Korean language institute, at around 4 hours a day). At any rate nowhere close to the 'near native' level that person speaks about in the video. So I guess people's mileage varies in terms of the levels that come out of this, or maybe it varies by level, or by language.


What jumped out to me is that one of the speakers equated it to "three years of university study". That doesn't sound very impressive to me, considering a lot of people take 3 years of a university class in a language and come out with a very low level, especially for category 5 languages.

I'm sure the program generates a lot of successful graduates so maybe she's underselling it or it depends on how much effort you put in.
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Re: How U.S. Military Linguists Learn Languages Fast

Postby luke » Wed Oct 27, 2021 6:19 pm

bolaobo wrote:What jumped out to me is that one of the speakers equated it to "three years of university study". That doesn't sound very impressive to me, considering a lot of people take 3 years of a university class in a language and come out with a very low level, especially for category 5 languages.

I'm sure the program generates a lot of successful graduates so maybe she's underselling it or it depends on how much effort you put in.

I noticed that too. Do you think she meant if someone was majoring in the language? (not just one class at a time for 3 years).
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Re: How U.S. Military Linguists Learn Languages Fast

Postby Axon » Thu Oct 28, 2021 2:51 am

I've been living in Monterey for a little over two years. I see military-looking types practicing Mandarin every few weeks here - funnily enough, I've never noticed any of them speaking other languages, so either the Mandarin class is enormous or I've just not been paying attention.

The DLI students are all able to converse in Mandarin to some extent, but there's a clear difference between them and the students at the Middlebury Institute who are studying to be professional translators and interpreters. At a school with the resources of the DLI, a dedicated learner can make excellent progress, to be sure. The problem is more of comfort, and you can just tell by listening that these students are still not comfortable with the language in the way that people who have been studying for 5+ years tend to be.
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Re: How U.S. Military Linguists Learn Languages Fast

Postby JLS » Thu Oct 28, 2021 12:03 pm

I love the DLI concept, and the seriousness that is pressed upon the training. Plans and tactics will be made around a member's interpretation of key documents and information, and the member must therefore have utter confidence that they've interpreted the intelligence right.

Not only that, but they must master it at such a level that they can discern motives and intentions in persons and documents. That's a sophisticated level of mastery.

Most impressively, dialects are taught from the beginning. This acknowledges that intelligent understanding of a language accounts for the natural fluidity of language, and that languages change and morph from context to context quickly.

I feel for those Arabic students, considering how diverse Arabic dialects can be.
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Re: How U.S. Military Linguists Learn Languages Fast

Postby AllSubNoDub » Thu Oct 28, 2021 12:17 pm

I don't think it has been noted, but I watched this video when it first premiered and I'm certain that he said there are different levels at which participants can graduate and not all participants complete the course to the highest level. It depends on the need and situation. So if you're judging the efficacy of the program based on former participants you've encountered, it would probably be good to keep in mind that they may not have completed the highest level offered by the program.
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Re: How U.S. Military Linguists Learn Languages Fast

Postby luke » Thu Oct 28, 2021 1:00 pm

AllSubNoDub wrote:I don't think it has been noted, but I watched this video when it first premiered and I'm certain that he said there are different levels at which participants can graduate and not all participants complete the course to the highest level.

There's a test at the end of the training that determines the students level, isn't there?

Based on other things in the video, it sounds like testing occurs along the way as well to evaluate the students progress.

DLI uses the ILR scale, rather than CEFR.

Would be nice to hear confirmation, but as I understand it:
2 = minimum to "pass"
2+ = better
3 = good
3+ and higher = excellent
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Re: How U.S. Military Linguists Learn Languages Fast

Postby Leurre » Thu Oct 28, 2021 1:56 pm

AllSubNoDub wrote:I don't think it has been noted, but I watched this video when it first premiered and I'm certain that he said there are different levels at which participants can graduate and not all participants complete the course to the highest level. It depends on the need and situation. So if you're judging the efficacy of the program based on former participants you've encountered, it would probably be good to keep in mind that they may not have completed the highest level offered by the program.


At least the people I encountered completed all 60+ weeks of the Korean program. Like I said, a lot to be desired in terms of their level.
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Re: How U.S. Military Linguists Learn Languages Fast

Postby Le Baron » Thu Oct 28, 2021 5:04 pm

Isn't it the case that people in these courses are tested for competence in order to enter it? Traditionally in the military they never wasted time training up linguists who showed no aptitude, so this is always going to be a class full of people likely to succeed to some level right? Maybe I'm wrong about this.

When I was first here I met a guy who was trained in both German and Dutch by the US military, air-force I think - at that point he was no longer in the military, but had stayed-on in NL in civilian life. His Dutch was functional, but rubbish. His German was decent, but with a bad accent
Do they train people faster than ordinary classes? The language integration classes here and in other countries that teach people, sometimes from illiteracy, turn out competent speakers in 2-3 years. Often much more quickly than that.
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