Where is Sam Damon?

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Foreign Language Crisis

The United States, despite all of its great strengths, has a broken education system that does not encourage foreign language and cultural training from a young age. Most American students take a foreign language in middle school - after the age when it is easiest for a human to learn a new language - and never gain proficiency. Compare that to many of the other First World countries and it is despicable.

Given this situation, it is no surprise that the U.S. military and intelligence agencies are lacking in linguists and officers with language ability. In this article, it states that, "Figures from the department indicate that only 1.2 percent of the military receives a bonus paid to those who can speak languages judged to be of critical importance for the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other areas of strategic concern." Despite the increase in Foreign Area Officer billets, which require cultural and language training - given to officers in their late-20s and 30s when it is extremely hard to learn a language - the military is still in crisis. It doesn't even seem that the military is stressing the importance of language training to its future officers: "The Army reports that only 106 of its 24,000 R.O.T.C. cadets are majoring in a strategic language." Cultural and language training is something that should not just be addressed by the military. It should be addressed in the American primary school system now for the future and in the R.O.T.C. and military academies now. America is a diverse country that claims to appreciate and accept different cultures, but we are lacking in true appreciation and understanding of other cultures because of our language skill Achilles heel. Truly knowing a culture means knowing its language... one more reason why a counterinsurgency is so hard for America to fight.

Learning a language at a young age is key. Although the Army gives free access to Rosetta Stone software to its soldiers, perhaps another heavy hitter, Muzzy, should be brought into the mix. Of course, Muzzy himself would need to learn Farsi, Chinese, Arabic, Pashtun, and Swedish - that's right, I don't trust the Swedes - but it can be done. Here is a commercial for Muzzy I remember from my childhood:

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