First DOD Language Summit to Set Future Strategy
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2011 After a five-year effort to institute processes needed to gauge service members’ foreign-language skills, the Defense Department will hold a summit this month to help in forging a systematic path forward, the director of the Defense Language Office said yesterday.
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Woodman Fleurizard, right, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 Detail Horn of Africa, interprets for sailors working on a primary school project Dec. 11, 2010, in Djibouti. Fleurizard is fluent in French, the primary language of Djiboutians. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Lindsey
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Nancy Weaver told American Forces Press Service that DOD issued the Defense Language Transformation Roadmap in 2005 that created her office, which is overseen by the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Each service and organization also set up senior language authorities, she said.
“Prior to the roadmap, we did not know what our capability was,” Weaver said. “We tracked professional linguists in the department, but if you were language-capable, we never asked the question.
“Now when you come in, if you are a civilian or a military [service member], you have an opportunity to tell us what language you speak,” she added.
The roadmap contains the rationale for its creation: “Post 9/11 military operations reinforce the reality that the Department of Defense needs a significantly improved organic capability in emerging languages and dialects, a greater competence and regional area skills in those languages and dialects, and a surge capability to rapidly expand its language capabilities on short notice.”
Since establishing the infrastructure needed to quantify its language capabilities, DOD has documented more than 250,000 military members and 33,000 civilian personnel tested and self-identified as having foreign-language skills, said Iris Bulls, deputy director for capability assessment and management in the Defense Language Office.
Bulls said the totals include personnel with more than one language, and more than 340 languages are listed in the office’s inventory.
“We didn’t know we had this rich resource, and the roadmap helped us get this capability,” Weaver said. “It also allowed us to document and [determine] our requirements. We’re still working on that.”
The roadmap also required the services for the first time to set up recruiting plans for language speakers, the director added.
Now that the infrastructure is established, Weaver said, the Pentagon and the services are ready to move beyond the roadmap and begin in an organized way to improve and bolster DOD’s national language, regional and cultural capabilities.
The first step in that process begins Jan. 25-26, during the DOD Language and Culture Summit here, Weaver said. The 250 to 300 participants will include officials from DOD and other federal agencies, experts from academia, scientists, and people such as combatant commanders who have an interest in the topic.
Speakers will discuss the development of language, regional and cultural skills ranging from the education of pre-kindergarten through high school students to training DOD personnel.
“We’ll be discussing the role of technology -- what we’re doing and how we can deploy it better,” Weaver said.
“Technology is not as advanced as, nor will it ever take the place of, human interaction,” she added. “But there is a place for technology, and we want to make sure that we exploit it to gain the best efficiencies we can.”
On the last day of the summit, expert panels will present action plans for the future and discuss the way forward.
“We think the department has done a lot,” Weaver said. “We’ve made tremendous progress but we haven’t crossed the finish line and that’s why this important step is needed. We can’t lose the momentum we gained from the roadmap. But because we need to go in a more structured and more efficient manner forward, the summit is going to be the first step to get us there.”
Weaver said DOD will be a model for a nation whose citizens all will benefit from improving their knowledge of other languages and cultures.
“There’s a desire for language to be taught pre-kindergarten all the way through college so that we can enrich our recruiting market,” Weaver said. “But also it strengthens America, which strengthens national security.”