A month before the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese, a secret military school was created to teach the Japanese language to Army personnel. By 1946, that school had evolved and grown, and moved to the Presidio of Monterey, an Army base on the California coast. By the time the Korean War broke out, some thirty languages were being taught at the Army Language School.
The separate military services ran their own language instruction programs until 1963. At that time, military language instruction was unified as the Defense Language Institute. The various programs run by the DLI were consolidated at the Presidio of Monterey in 1974. That marks the creation of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center as it is known today.
The DLIFLC has taught every language that the United States military needed to conduct its operations. In the Cold War, it taught all of the Warsaw Pact languages. This is where intelligence analysts and embassy personnel came to learn the language skills that would allow them to gather information vital to the defense of the United States.
Currently, the DLIFLC teaches some 24 languages in its residential programs. Course lengths vary from 26 weeks to 62 weeks, depending on the difficulty of the language for Western speakers. French instruction is a shorter course than Mandarin Chinese. The courses offer a basic Federal level 2 instruction, as well as intermediate and advanced instruction.
Japanese is still taught to a small number of students. The Iraqi dialect of Arabic, Pashtu and Dari are all popular courses as our troops fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Troops destined for Bosnia can receive instruction in Serbo-Croat.
The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center has a robust on-line presence, and a variety of on-line and home study courses are available from them. They also make available instruction in low demand languages through their Washington, D.C. office’s contract arrangements.
Colonel Sue Ann Sandusky is the commandant of Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center.She describes the instruction at her command as “culturally-based language training “. The student spends six or seven hours a day in instruction but the language training does not extend outside the classroom. Sandusky calls that a “mini-immersion experience “.
The DLIFLC has about 3,000 students at any one time, and around 1,700 civilian faculty. 98% of the faculty are native speakers. There are about 150 military personnel consisting of instructors, and all levels of support staff.
The student’s success is measured by the Defense Language Proficiency Test, testing listening and reading. Speaking proficiency is measured by the Oral Proficiency Interview. Writing the language is not currently evaluated. The standards applied are accepted throughout the Federal Government. Col. Sandusky describes the basic DLIFLC competency as requiring more than a traditional four year language major at a liberal arts college.
The class instruction includes social, cultural and other aspects that the student must know to understand the language and its native speakers. If needed, dialects can be taught, such as the many variants of Arabic.
On-line, the DLIFLC makes available “Language Survival Kits” which over 80,000 service members have used, and a program called “Head Start” which is a slightly more advanced language prep course. These do not approximate the residential courses at Monterey but provide a basis for our troops to communicate while deployed overseas.
The War on Terror, and a wide variety of humanitarian assistance missions such as Operation Continuing Promise and Africa Partnership Station call for servicemen and women who speak uncommon and exotic languages as well as those of our NATO allies. The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center provides the opportunity for our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen to fill those roles. With the on-line delivery of instructional materials, any warfighter with Internet access can improve their language skills. That may mean the difference between life and death in a tight spot in some far away land.