Okinawa Marines get a leg up on language training
July 27, 2008
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — New computer-based language centers will help servicemembers learn foreign languages and acquaint them with cultural customs and traditions.
The Language Lab Resource Centers, which opened last week at camps Foster, Hansen and Schwab, offer software aimed at teaching troops how to communicate with locals during deployments.
Students can choose from 150 languages, including Arabic, Hindi and Farsi.
Unlike a typical college Spanish class or a Rosetta Stone CD-ROM, the lab offers interactive technology-based learning, officials say.
Students can record conversations, then let the software review them for proper dialect and pronunciation; familiarize themselves with a country’s current news events through a broadcast cable network link; and learn etiquette specific to a region.
Cultural awareness is critical to a successful mission, particularly for troops patrolling villages and meeting with officials, said Mike Russell, a project manager with Trofholz Technologies Inc., which developed the software. Troops should be able to ask, "Where is your village leader?" and "Have you seen any insurgents in this area?" Russell said.
Once servicemembers have finished the course, "everyone has an understanding of what to do and what not to do," Russell said. "It allows [Marines] to be able to hit the ground and not be shocked."
One program, the Tactical Language & Cultural Training System, features video lessons starring an electronic Marine character who demonstrates conversations for different scenarios, from how to enter a village to how to properly talk to locals.
The character reviews dialogue, and also the proper hand gestures and movements so as not to offend the villagers during conversations.
There are similar labs at stateside Marine bases including Camp Pendleton, Twentynine Palms, Quantico and Camp Lejeune, Russell said.
Typically, troops have relied on translators embedded with units to help them navigate various regions, said Gregory Graham, a quality assurance evaluator with Marine Corps Combat Camera Center in Okinawa. He oversees the labs.
"This is another tool that will help them benefit professionally and it may actually save your life in some situations," Graham said.
Students can receive basic training and progress to becoming proficient and certified, officials said.
The programs are offered to individuals and units.
If you’re interested in learning a language, contact Graham at DSN 623-2610.