Army offers foreign language training

Aidan M. Anderson

Aside from sometimes painful liberal arts education requirements, foreign language knowledge can be a boon, especially when your job description includes operating in hostile territory.

In September 2005, the Army awarded computer-based instruction company Fairfield Language Technologies a one-year, $4.2 million contract to make computer-based foreign language training available to all soldiers and Department of the Army civilians.

Twenty-six languages are available to service members as a part of the software, which is called Rosetta Stone. Arabic, Farsi and Pashto ” the languages of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, respectively ” are offered, along with languages from most parts of the world.

The training was first made available on the Army’s e-Learning Web site at the end of November.

Before the Army as a whole adopted the program, Rosetta Stone software had been used by U.S. special operations forces, Air Force International Affairs and at the United States Military Academy, wrote Steve Hertzberg, vice president of sales and marketing for the company, in an e-mail.

The program uses pictures, sounds and text to help users learn the language. These three skills give it an advantage over trying to work through a book by itself, said Marlene Johnshoy, Web manager for the University’s Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition.

The program works because users develop a sense of success early and gain confidence as they continue, Hertzberg wrote.

“The thing that’s missing is the output ” speaking to people,” Johnshoy said. “With many of the computer programs, that fourth skill is the problem.”

Computer-based training is useful for basic listening comprehension and vocabulary review, but less effective than classroom study of advanced language skills, said Jenise Rowekamp, director of the College of Liberal Arts Language Center.

“It’s an interesting self-study, probably not a bad choice for the purpose,” she said.

It’s commendable that the Army is interested in making language learning available to service members for some of the countries they’re stationed in, she said.

The programs are not designed to make soldiers experts and differ from the Army’s Defense Language Institute at the Presidio in San Francisco, said Lt. Col. Curt Cooper, professor of military studies at the University.

Soldiers and Army Department civilians can enroll in the programs through their Army Knowledge Online accounts.

Despite the military’s worldwide presence, the course offerings have more to do with personal and professional development, Cooper said. Foreign language has played an important role in American military operations, dating back to working with the French in the Revolutionary and World wars, Cooper said.

“It’s part of our culture in the military: You have to know the language of the people you’re working with,” he said.

The computer-based aspect of the training allows soldiers to study on their own time and works well with many different schedules, Cooper said.

Some cadets have already showed interest in the program.

“One of my students, an ROTC cadet, is taking Chinese here and he wants to take the program to back himself up,” he said.

The new language offerings, along with other Army e-Learning programs, such as computer certification and management training, are a way to continue an education and stay current in a particular field, Cooper said.

“Your education is only as good as the day you stop reading,” he said.