War Zone Language Learning

Monterey, CA – Thousands of miles away from the war zone in Iraq, in an office at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, a group of developers is constantly working on ways to improve communication between U.S. Forces and locals.

The DLI's Curriculum Development Division's latest tool is an interactive DVD called Iraqi Headstart. It's a ten day, self-guided program that not only gives troops Iraqi Arabic language materials, but it helps them learn it through a series of exercises and tests.

"Mainly we want them to address the Iraqi in an authentic and respectful way and make sure the Iraqi understands what they are telling them, so a lot of frictions will be avoided," said the DLI's Pamela Combacau. She leads the team that developed the Headstart programs.

To ensure the material's authenticity, the designers included authentic Iraqi documents, like ID cards, and used sentences from Iraqi newspapers and copied graffiti from walls in Iraq. They also consulted members of the military like Army Captain Jesse Beaudin. He served in Iraq between 2003 and 2004. While there he learned some Iraqi Arabic from the Language Survival Kit Developed by the DLI.

Beaudin says knowing a little bit of the language helped him capture high value targets. "Another piece is on traffic control points, just being able to say, can I see your ID? They just pull it out. So instead of sitting there yelling because they don't understand what I'm saying, which could lead to an escalation of force between them getting heated, me getting heated, I'd just say what's your name, where's your ID, and they gave it to me," added Beaudin.

The DLI has made Headstart DVDs for Iraqi Arabic and Afghan Pashtu and Dari. It is now working on Iranian Farsi and Chinese Mandarin.