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The intersection of language and culture.


Language and culture are interdependent and critically essential for Soldiers and others who strategically and tactically operate within the contemporary operational environment. The U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence (USAICoE) has always supported language training. In 2003, USAICoE recognized the requirement to specifically train Soldiers in cultural awareness because of operational missions that demonstrated the especially wide cultural gulf between our Western world view and that of the Middle Eastern cultures. Besides cultural variances, language differences must also be concurrently addressed in basic survival level instruction often requested by deploying units and commanders.
 Language Training. Everyone should learn basic language skills.
 Every deployed person should be able to greet locals and say
 "thank-you." Each platoon, or like-sized organization, that
 will have regular contact with the population should have at
 least one leader that speaks Dari at least the 0+ level, with
 a goal of a level 1 in oral communication. These personnel
 will not replace interpreters, but will enhance the capabilities
 of the unit. This language skill is as important as your other
 basic combat skills.
 You must understand your Operational Environment. Traditional
 Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) is insufficient
 and it is intimate knowledge of the Human Terrain that is paramount.
 Know the society's leadership systems; learn the National,
 Provincial, and district government structure. Understand the
 familial, clan and tribal cultures. What are the relationships
 and tensions among the separate groups? All of us must learn
 the ASCOPE (Area, Structures, Capabilities, Organizations,
 People and Events) methodology to refine our awareness of the
 operational environment. This gives us an understanding of civil
 considerations from the point of view of the population, insurgent,
 and counterinsurgent. Incorporate early into your training
 program so concepts can be weaved into all of your exercises,
 as you prepare to deploy.
 - General Stanley McChrystal, COIN Training Guidance
 Memorandum, 10 November 2009 (1)

DOD is aware of the critical importance of culture and language training:
 "Although not a new problem, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan
 have highlighted the need for operational forces to improve
 their foreign language and cultural awareness capabilities.
 The Department recognized this and its Strategic Planning
 Guidance for 2006-2011, issued in March 2004, one year
 after the commencement of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM
 (the Second Gulf War), called for a comprehensive roadmap
 for "language transformation.' (2)

 The Strategic Planning Guidance directed that the Roadmap would:

 1 Create foundational language and regional area expertise [culture].
 2 Build a surge capacity for language and cultural resources.
 3. Establish a cadre of language specialists with advanced
 4. Better manage and promote military personnel with language
 skills and regional expertise." (3)

 "It is DOD policy, that [foreign language and regional
 expertise be considered critical competencies essential
 to the DoD mission and shall be managed to maximize
 the accession, development, maintenance, enhancement,
 and employment of these critical skills appropriate to
 the Department of Defense's mission needs. (4)

The interdependence of language and culture may be expressed as "language conveys culture and culture defines language." Franz Boas, a German-American anthropologist and a pioneer of modern anthropology, realized in his study of Native American languages, " 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 life ways of a people were reflected in the language that they spoke."

Further, Benjamin Whorf, an American linguist widely known for his ideas about linguistic relativity, 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."

The objective in presenting these ideas is to point out 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 as we know it. Culture and our environment define our language in how we describe and express our feelings. Years ago while teaching a language survey class, I often illustrated the effect of culture and environment on language with an example of locating a group of individuals in the higher elevations of the Wasatch Front in Utah and then in about 100 years compare the language with those who remained in the valley given little or no interchange between the two groups. The two groups would use a different vocabulary, possibly even different grammar and syntax to describe their life ways (Boas) which over time would become even more linguistically distinct.

Edward Sapir, a German-born American anthropologist-linguist and a leader in American structural linguistics, 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."

USAICoE Efforts

USAICoE has designed and developed cultural awareness, cultural understanding, and expertise instruction for deploying units while the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLI FLC) has provided basic, survival language training such as the "RAPPORT" online training along with other language acquisition programs.

The TRADOC Culture Center (TCC) at Fort Huachuca was established to train Soldiers primarily about culture. Its mission statement:
 TCC trains and educates Soldiers, DA Civilians and the Joint
 Force on relevant, mission-focused, operational and PME-focused
 cross-cultural knowledge, skills, abilities, and attributes to
 produce a cross-culturally competent operational force to
 support full spectrum operations in a joint, interagency,
 intergovernmental, and multinational environment.
Tactical Strateaic Operational

Social/Cultural Cues Political Environment Religion

Communications Key Leaders Social Structure

History Military Ethnic Groups

Geography Economic Environment Infrastructure

Gender Demographics Negotiation

Rapport Building Understanding Psyche

In October 2010, the TCC achieved a significant milestone with the transition to permanent government positions, supplemented by contractor personnel combining military experience, cross-cultural understanding, and academic knowledge. The core mission evolved from "providing mission-focused culture education and training" to "producing a cross-culturally competent operational force" in recognition of the ever-expanding global mission of the U.S. Armed Forces. The culture curriculum addresses core culture from self-awareness to communications, rapport building, and negotiations, as well as country-specific studies on more than 50 countries.

Specialty courses continue development, including country-specific expertise for the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Culture Understanding and Language Program. Five annual Culture Summits were held from 2006 through 2010, bringing together a blend of experts from military, non-government organizations, and academia to discuss cutting edge issues in the field of military cross-cultural competence.

The MI Foreign Language Training Center (MIFLTC), even though not connected to nor supported by the TCC, sustains all MI linguists including those at Fort Huachuca and Goodfellow AFB with mobile training teams, video teleconference training classes, and immersion courses in Yalta, Chile, Egypt, and in the future, China. The University of Military Intelligence website provides further training through the Language Training Guide, links to language training sites such as Lingnet, Langnet, Rosetta Stone through AKO, Auralog Language Training, SCOLA and other sites as they become available.

Research and development efforts in language training products include the Iraqi Language Trainer, Korean Language Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) Enhancement Program (LMEP) for interrogators, Somali Language Training, and Project Mercury (Russian language training).

Additionally the MIFLTC implemented a community outreach program with the Huachuca Foreign Language Academy (HFLA), Buena High School, and the Department of Homeland Security. The HFLA 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, Fort Huachuca. It was a ten-week Spanish and Arabic program that provided foreign language and culture training for younger (ages 12 through 14) verbally gifted students to prepare them for high school foreign language classes, eventually establishing a pipeline of foreign language students for universities and ultimately service in the DOD.

MIFLTC personnel have met with foreign language instructors and Junior ROTC students at Buena High School in Sierra Vista to explain foreign language programs and careers available through the Army and MI Foreign Language Operations. The MIFLTC has also provided two week Spanish acquisition classes for the Drug Enforcement Agency, and in the future for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Marshals Service.

In November 2009 the MIFLTC concluded a second successful Arabic pilot course. The purpose was to provide additional information on the conduct and outcome of a DLIFLC Arabic pilot course conducted at the direction of Department of the Army (DA) G2. The course provided insights and lessons learned for future MOS 35M HUMINT Collector language enabled training courses. Course developers focused on design and development of an instructional methodology that would support a shorter Modern Standard Arabic language curriculum. Instructors and military language instructors used skills integration (speaking, listening, and reading) through role-playing, projects, and task-based activities that enhanced students' language acquisition. Balanced instruction in target language and culture using authentic materials such as print media, Internet, and Arabic satellite TV broadcasts were implemented. At the end of the course students participated in a four week immersion study program conducted by AMIDEAST in Amman, Jordan. These classes were conducted 5 to 6 hours daily by native instructors with guest lecturers correlated with integrated language and culture activities outside the classroom.

The MIFLTC fully supports language and cultural expertise, the concept of surge capability, establishing a cadre of Level 3 subject matter experts, and tracking language professionals as supported and established in the 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
 multinational missions, especially in post-conflict and other
 than combat, security, humanitarian, nation-building, and
 stability operations." (5)

Other Language and Culture Training Efforts

In February 2003, Dr. David Chu, Assistant Secretary of Defense, Reserve Affairs, directed the Army to develop a pilot program aimed at recruiting native and heritage speakers of critical languages (including Arabic, Dari, and Pashto) into the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) primarily for their language and cultural expertise which was sorely lacking during this time of conflict. In the summer of 2003, the Army began to access recruits into the MOS 09L Interpreter/Translator Pilot Program, which ran for two years. (In a request from OUSD (I) Personnel and Readiness MOS 09L was organized and transitioned from IRR to active component control.)


The program began at Fort Jackson, South Carolina under a contract with Camber Inc., to develop the program of instruction and lesson plans. Eventually it migrated under the control of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca with DLIFLC developing and designing the instruction. Under supervision of the OUSD Manpower and Reserve Affairs (M&RA) directed the recruitment of Arabic and dialect native speakers to be trained as translators and interpreters. The 09L program recruited native and heritage speakers of Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Kurdish, and Pash to directly into the IRR. After Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training these Soldiers became interpreters in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Over 200 soldiers have graduated and deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, South Africa, Kenya, and the Sudan. Some examples of 09L soldiers in action from Commanders' comments (after-action review by OUSD M&RA) 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 JAN 05.

* 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 JAN 29, 2005 the day before we made history with the first election.

* While SGT Chailem 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.

Cultural awareness and foreign language training are force multipliers in the contemporary operational environment that must also include learning about our coalition partners. The two disciplines are intertwined and inseparable; one cannot exist or be instructed without the other. Successful language and culture programs and centers are already organized to accomplish this critical language and cultural mission. The Air Force Culture and Language Center (AFCLC) trains culturally, regionally, and linguistically competent Airmen who exert positive influence in support of Air Force expeditionary operations and institutional requirements. AFCLC essential tasks include, "synchronization of cross-cultural competence across the continuum of learning for the Total Force by defining, implementing and coordinating cultural, regional and foreign language education for officers, enlisted and civilian." (6)

The Marines' Center For Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL) promotes "...a grasp of culture and language as regular, mainstream components of the operating environment-the human terrain-throughout the full spectrum of military operations; it is the Corps' "one-stop" clearing house for operational culture and language training." (7)

Fort Drum has a complete language and culture training program "developing language skills while simultaneously gaining an appreciation for societal and cultural norms will help our Soldiers and leaders effectively communicate with local populations, This will result in building trust, gaining valuable insights, resolving conflicts and ultimately changing perceptions." (8)

At the Fort Lewis Foreign Language Training Center, under the direction of Ms. Yvonne Pawelek (twice selected by DA as having the Language Program of the Year), selected soldiers are offered the opportunity to participate in a 41 week Arabic language and culture course. At the conclusion of the course the Army students experience a day of "Arabic in Action" that includes all stages in their language instruction. The Arabic-trained language-enabled Soldiers move among seven stations-typical shops, offices, clinics and restaurants-designed to test their knowledge of language and culture, and to challenge their ability to think on their feet. Under the language-enabled program, Soldiers from a variety of MOSs are trained in language and culture and then return to their units to perform their normal duties. They become trusted advisors down to platoon level, better able to understand day-to-day cultural cues, customs and basic language encountered by small unit leaders.


At the outset of the Iraq conflict, a comment was made 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 was, and 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." Our collective task is 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. In conclusion, a statement from the 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. (9)

Editor's Note: The U.S. Army has chosen Headstart2, a DOD developed program, to replace Rosetta Stone as its distributed learning language tool. Headstart2 is a self-paced culturally based program consisting of two units with ten modules each, covering topics of general nature including modules with over 1,000 key military related terms and phrases. Seventeen languages are currently available. Soldiers will receive credit via the Army Training Requirements and Resources System (ATRRS) and promotion points. Dependants may also utilize Headstart2. Headstart2 can be used on a home computer; soldiers in remote areas can request CDs from DLIFLC. Additionally, the DLIFLC website will allow downloads to iTouch, iPhone, or iPad. For more information go to


(1.) Headquarters, U.S. Forces Afghanistan/International Security Assistance Force Memorandum, "COMISAF/USFOR-A Counterinsurgency (COIN) Training Guidance," November 10, 2009.

(2.) Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, Department of Defense, February 2005, 1.

(3.) Building Language Skills and Cultural Competencies in the Military: DOD's Challenge in Today's Educational Environment, U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee Print 110-12.

(4.) Language and Regional Expertise Planning, Joint Staff Directive 3126.01 (January 23, 2006, current as of February 11, 2008), A-1.

(5.) Defense Language Transformation Roadmap.

(6.) AFCLC brochure.

(7.) CAOCL Mission Statement.

(8.) MG Lloyd J. Austin III, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum Commander at the opening 25 May 2005 and Fort Drum Mountaineer article entitled "Opening of Language Center," June 2005.

(9.) Defense Language Transformation Roadmap.

by Mr. Peter A. Shaver

Mr. Peter Shaver is a Training Specialist for the Training Development and Integration Directorate at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He is the former Director, MIFLTC. He may be contacted at
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Author:Shaver, Peter A.
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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