Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Problem Is In Human Resources Not The Military

The situation of language training in the military is far more complex than this article suggests. The military has done lots of great things to train its soldiers in the different languages that are needed. The military produced hundreds of new curriculum , books, learning management systems, great content. The US Military today has all the tools that it needs to train.

The main problem that the US military has, and that any army would have for that matter, is a human resources one. There is a severe shortage of skilled language teachers , and I emphasize on teachers, who understand what the military wants and who understand how to utilize the tools that DoD has made available during the past 5 years. Academic linguists care about research more than teaching, and when they teach in a military setting they assume that you need 4 years of college to master the language. I mean, there are literally some Arabic classes out there where 3 months are spent learning the alphabet, script and a few basic words. That is a waste of time and resources!

Outside of academia there is a lack of language speakers educated in the target language country who have the skills to teach language.

So the problem in a nutshell, as I see it, is lack of skilled teachers, who are skilled in the different methods of language training, who are available to serve. that is why we see that companies like McNeill Language Services for example use native speakers whose profession was driving a cab. Nothing wrong with cab drivers, but that would be like me driving a cab (I know nothing about it).

That is why at Global Language Systems I have developed methods by which we train native speakers who were educated in the target language country (college education minimum, high scholl for some rare languages). We also use language training methods that are suitable for the needs of the military based on customizing courses down to the mission level and also make sure that they acquire the language within the shortest period of time possible. For example, it takes the US military right now about 400 hours of initial training to get a soldier to level 0+ or 1 in Iraqi Arabic. We do that within 120-160 hrs of classrom time, almost one-fourth the time the military needs.

One company like mine cannot solve the problem but what is really needed is for the DoD to start focusing on training their instructors and establish a base-line training methodology, or a template, that is applied throughout the military whether internally or by contractors. That template should focus on methods that have been proven to help students acquire language in a short amount of time. Such a template is lacking in the US military and its language schools. Teachers control the teaching methods and even the curriculum most of the time. Superb curriculum that has been developed by the DoD goes ignored.

Bottom line is, fix the human resources problem and you fix a great portion of the language training problem in the US military. I don't think that you can snp your fingers and get Arabic speakers (as Tony Snow said in his press briefing today) but I believe that the problem can be solved within a very short period if the human resources were steered in the right direction.