Headstart Language Program for Soldiers

I guess I missed this article (from 2009) about teaching soldiers, who are deployed to the Afghanistan and Iraq, the native languages of the region.  Learning the foreign languages of the native populations is a must if the U.S. is to succeed in that area.  Best of all, it should allow soldiers and natives the opportunity to learn about each other’s cultures and improve relations.

The article is by C. Todd Lopez, “Language Program gives soldiers head start on deployment,” Infantry Magazine (Jan-Feb 2009):

The Defense Language Institute has developed a “Headstart” program to help deploying troops gain skills in Arabic, Pashto and Dari–languages spoken in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With conflicts ongoing in these two nations, there’s a need for at least some Soldiers to have knowledge of the languages spoken there. A recent study by the House Armed Services Committee highlighted the need for increased language capability in the armed forces.

“Only a small part of today’s military is proficient in a foreign language and until recently there has been no comprehensive, systematic approach to develop cultural members wrote in their report.

The Defense Language Institute’s Headstart program is one path that can help Soldiers develop language skills. Headstart is a computer-based, self-directed language learning program aimed at military members getting ready to deploy. The program offers lessons in five languages: Daft, Pashto, Persian Farsi, Mandarin Chinese, and the dialect of Arabic used in Iraq.

The self-guided program takes between 80 to 100 hours to complete. After completing the course, Soldiers should be able to hit the ground in a new country with enough language skills to conduct business and have limited communication with civilians in the local language, according to the DLI commandant.

“You’d be able to take care of the survival-needs level of speaking requirements,” said COL Sue Ann Sandusky, commandant of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. “Even effectively conduct conversations and ask questions about a broad range of topics and understand a significant amount of the answers coming back. You’d certainly be able to communicate if you worked through the program.”

COL Sandusky said Headstart begins like every language program, in that all new language learners will need to learn numbers, colors, quantities, key verbs and key verb constructs. But the Headstart language program is designed primarily for military members on military missions so the program is designed from that perspective.


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