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Language action: culture and language training.


The interdependence of culture and language may be expressed as "language conveys culture and culture defines language." Franz Boas realized in his study of Native American languages" ... how greatly ways of life and grammatical categories could vary from one place to another. As a result he came to believe that the culture and lifeways of a people were reflected in the language that they spoke." (1) Further, Benjamin Whorf asserted that, "we dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages ... the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds--and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds." (2)

My purpose in presenting these ideas is to illustrate the inescapable connection between language and culture. Without language to transport and illustrate cultural or natural phenomena, culture would be limited or perhaps even cease to exist. Our culture and environment define our language in how we describe and express our feelings. When teaching a language survey class, I would often illustrate the effect of culture and environment on language using the example of isolating a group of individuals in the upper elevations of the Wasatch Front in Utah and then in about 100 years or so comparing the language with those who remained in the valley given no interchange between the two groups. The two groups would use different vocabulary, possibly even different grammar and syntax to describe their lifeways which, over time, would become even more distinct. Edward Sapir commented that, "we see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation." (3)

The following are a few examples of the misuse of English taken from a presentation given by Dr. Ray Clifford, Brigham Young University, at the 300th Military Intelligence Brigade Language Conference on March 17, 2006. They will illustrate the connection between language and culture, specifically the lack of American cultural knowledge which results in misunderstanding of the message's meaning and intent:

* Sign in a Moscow hotel: If this is your first visit to Moscow, you are welcome to it.

* Sign in a Hong Kong tailor shop: Ladies may have a fit upstairs.

* Thermostat instructions in a Japanese hotel room: Cooles and Heates: If you want just condition of warm in your room, please control yourself.

* Sign in a cocktail lounge in Norway: Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.

* Sign in a foreign airport: For restrooms, go back toward your behind.

Intelligence Center Takes the Initiative

We must conclude that culture and language are inseparable and where one is taught, so should the other. The U.S. Army Intelligence Center (USAIC) has recognized the requirement to train soldiers in cultural awareness (CA) since 2003, understanding the wide cultural gulf between our Western world view and that of the Middle East or other cultures. To that end we continue to organize our CA training as mandated by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Combined Arms Center (CAC). Our current key tasks include:

* Conducting train-the-trainer instruction delivered by our research and development (R&D) team to senior military instructors.

* Sending mobile training teams (MTTs) to units preparing to deploy.

* Conducting R&D to ensure our information is timely and current.

? Encouraging partnership agreements to exchange cultural information with university programs.

* Collecting (or harvesting) CA training programs from DOD and government entities such as the Marines and the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) to avoid redundancy and to be mutually supportive.

In addition to the cultural aspects there is also a language consideration. Language training should be addressed along with CA training to meet unit requirements especially where language knowledge will be part of the mission. Basic, survival-level instruction is often requested by deploying units. To that end, we have partnered with Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLI FLC) to provide language training in support of the CA instruction.

TRADOC Culture Center

Our TRADOC Culture Center is structured around culture and foreign language operations. An explanation of the kinds of support the Center can provide is outlined in a DOD message dated April 7, 2006: "TRADOC's Culture Center (TCC), located at Fort Huachuca, also provides MTTs and materials (at no cost to the unit) that are focused on cultures in the Middle East and Afghanistan. MTTs are focused on cultural awareness familiarization and pre-deployment preparations. With the assistance of Soldiers in Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) 09L and other experienced individuals, the TCC provides an in depth view of the various countries, cultures, and their people. Based on unit requirements, the TCC can provide training in module format ranging from four to forty hours."

The operational structure of the TCC includes training and development, partnering, harvesting, cross-cultural R&D, and MTTs. Language operations include program design, testing, and sustainment training. The TCC staff includes four PhDs with backgrounds in Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology as well as three retired soldiers with college degrees and operational experience in Iraq. Another team member speaks five African languages fluently having spent over fifteen years in the region. The institutional training team includes a Persian-Farsi linguist, and two others with knowledge and experience in Arab culture and religion.

Partnering efforts have resulted in collaboration with several universities to include Georgetown, Columbia, and the Universities of Arizona and Arkansas. Some of our harvesting efforts include Twenty Nine Palms, California; Fort Drum, New York; Quantico, Virginia, and the JRTC. Our MTT unit, which has trained over 12,500 deploying troops since 2003, has educated and trained native instructors from Palestine, Morocco, and Algeria.

Cultural Awareness Training Methodology

Our CA training methodology is focused on interactive, task-based and exportable lesson plans implementing current CA scenarios. Feedback we have received from our MTTs has shown that soldiers prefer to be more actively engaged in the learning process and that information given by native instructors is considered more valid and timely than that presented by American instructors, albeit just as informational. DLI provides basic language skills instruction supplemented with Language Survival Kits which Soldiers will use for refresher training while in the field or where there is no access to language instruction. Online sources such as Lingnet, Langnet, and Satellite Communications for Learning (SCOLA) are available when accessible.

The TCC development team has just completed the 2007 professional military education (PME) instructional curriculum which, after staffing and comment, will be part of all TRADOC schools' curriculum from initial military training (IMT) to the Captains Career Courses (CCCs). Schools will choose how much of the cultural training they wish to integrate, but there will be a recommended minimum number of hours for each subject. Terminal Learning Objectives will address culture, American culture, the contemporary operational environment (COE) culture and impact of COE culture on military operations. Specific cultural topics addressed are religion, Arab culture, cross-cultural communications, history, geography, tribalism, and tactical application of cultural knowledge. The amount of class time spent on each subject area will increase from IMT to the CCCs.

Foreign Language Operations

Our Foreign Language Operations (FLO) section supports all MI linguists including those at Fort Huachuca and Goodfellow Air Force Base with MTTs and video teletraining classes as well as resident immersion courses in Yalta, Chile, Egypt and, in the future, China. Our University of Military Intelligence website provides further training through the Language Training Guide with links to language training sites such as Lingnet, Langnet, and Rosetta Stone through Army Knowledge Online, SCOLA and other sites as they become available. R&D efforts in language training products include the Iraqi Language Trainer; Korean (and soon Arabic) Language MOS Enhancement Program (LMEP) for interrogators; Somali Language Training, and Project Mercury.

Additionally, we implemented a community outreach program with the Huachuca Foreign Language Academy (HFA), Buena High School (Sierra Vista, Arizona), and the Department of Homeland Security. The HFA was an intensive foreign language program for middle school students under the direction of Ms. Cecilia Gross, a gifted and talented teacher from Johnson Elementary School at Fort Huachuca. It was a ten week program in Spanish and Arabic with the objective of providing foreign language training for younger, verbally gifted students to prepare them for high school foreign language classes with the goal of eventually establishing a pipeline of foreign language students for universities, and ultimately service in DOD.

We have met with foreign language instructors and Reserve Officer Training Corps students at Buena High School to explain foreign language programs and careers available through the Army and our FLO. The FLO has also provided two-week Spanish acquisition classes for the Drug Enforcement Agency and, in the future, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Marshals Service.


Additionally, we fully support language and cultural expertise; the concept of surge capability; establishing a cadre of level 3 subject matter experts; and tracking language professionals established in the Defense Language Transformation Roadmap prepared by the Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel, and Readiness for the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

"Conflict against enemies speaking less commonly taught languages, and thus the need for foreign language capability, will not abate. Robust foreign language and foreign area expertise (Cultural Awareness) are critical to sustaining coalitions, pursuing regional stability, and conducting multi-national missions especially in post-conflict and other than combat, security, humanitarian, nation-building, and stability operations." (4)

Update on MOS 09L

MOS 09L Interpreter/Translator is transitioning from Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) to active component (AC) control. The program began at Fort Jackson, South Carolina as a contract to develop the program of instruction and lesson plans. Eventually it migrated to the control of USAIC&FH with the DLI FLC developing and designing the instruction. The Under Secretary of Defense, Manpower and Reserve Affairs directed the recruitment of Arabic and dialect native speakers to be trained as translators and interpreters. The 09L program recruits native and heritage speakers of Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Kurdish and Pashto directly into the IRR. After Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training these Soldiers become interpreters in Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM. This program has graduated over 200 soldiers who have been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, South Africa, Kenya, and the Sudan. Some of their commanders' thoughts on the performance and heroism of their 09Ls in theater:

* "During fights, (he) was critical helping me get info quick from captured insurgents. In fact, his work helped us find a huge cache and an insurgent cell, emplaced by the insurgents to break up the elections in January 2005."

* "I had a $500,000 bounty on my head so if nothing else, (09L) working next to me for months validated his bravery."

* "He'll always be that goofy 18 year old with my CSM yelling at him and he'll also be that soldier who 'terped for me and jumped in front of me when a sniper tried to drill me on January 29, 2005, the day before we made history with the first election."

* "While the sergeant and his team were on missions in Kenya, they traveled through a small town and were planning to spend the night. Using his knowledge of animal tracking that he had learned hunting warthogs and African buffalo in Ethiopia, he knew by footprints on the ground that something was amiss. He saw fresh footprints of a group of 30 people and could tell by the impressions in the grass they had rested for a moment and recently dispersed. He knew these were not locals and told his team it was not safe to stay there and that they needed to immediately push ahead to the next town. A report came the next morning that a massacre had occurred that very same night."


CA and foreign language skills are force multipliers in the COE to include our coalition partners from other countries; they are intertwined and inseparable, one cannot exist or be instructed without the other. I heard a comment that, "We are a nation at war and I do not have time to send my linguists to do language training." Allow me to submit that is precisely why we are at war because we did not have the required language and cultural knowledge to prevent attacks on our country from those whose desire it is to destroy our way of life.

One of the conclusions drawn from the November 2005 Military Language Conference, was that it is imperative to establish a pipeline of language students who are ready to support and fulfill our nation's language and culture requirements. We must start in the public school system now and provide incentives to colleges and universities to establish additional foreign language and cultural programs. General John Abizaid asserted, "... [We need to] drive the importance of language and regional expertise from the top. Tell the Services to place greater value on such skills." 5 This is the task for all of us to go forward with urgency to ensure that "no foreign language or cultural training is left unlearned." This challenge must also include the languages and cultures of our globally represented coalition partners. To close, a statement from the Defense Language Transformation Roadmap:

"Establishing a new "global footprint" for DoD, and transitioning to a more expeditionary force, will bring increased requirements for language and regional knowledge (cultural awareness) to work with new coalition partners in a wide variety of activities, often with little or no notice. This new approach to warfighting in the 21st century will require forces that have foreign language capabilities beyond those generally available in today's force." (6)


(1.) From the Wikipedia Encyclopedia at

(2.) John B. Carroll, ed., Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1956), 215.

(3.) David G. Mandelbaum, ed., Culture, Language, and Personality, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1949), 162.

(4.) Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, January 2005, 3.

(5.) At

(6.) Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, January 2005, 3.

Editor's Note: The TCC is online at

Peter Shaver is the Director, TRADOC Culture Center Chief, Culture, Foreign Language Integration Center (CFLIC) and the 09L Translator/Interpreter Course Training Manager. Readers can reach him via email at and by telephone at (520) 538-1042 or DSN 879-1042.
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Author:Shaver, Peter A.
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Article Type:Company overview
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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