The Miraculous Language Courses of the US Military + BONUS
The DLIFC (Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center) prepares military linguists for the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy using incredibly intense programs. Knowing that most Americans aren’t gifted for foreign languages, one has to ask oneself: why? Why designing such ordeals that most people would fail? Then: are they really that effective? Either way, the DLIFC should be credited with a unique approach that deserves some praising.
Olly Richards is a guy who knows reasonably well a number of languages, and he has designed the StoryLearning® method that has been adapted by his team (imperfectly, but decently) to a number of languages. This method is by no means revolutionary, but it might be useful in supporting someone learning e.g. Italian, French, Spanish, German using conversations (dialogues meant to be used as lessons) and short stories. Olly Richards is no Barry Farber though!
Now, here’s a video by Olly from Oct 22, 2021, in which he describes how the United States Military Linguists are learning languages fast:
There is no way to learn a language really fast, despite the so many learning methods and apps. And no, all those idiots who say “Screw the grammar, because babies do not learn a language, they acquire a language” are just that: idiots. One can learn a language with absolutely zero grammar and zero knowledge about how words are spelled only when they’re babies. As adults, and even as teens, the only method includes grammar, spelling, and more. There is no time to acquire a language like babies do it, i.e. by hearing the same words and phrases MILLIONS OF TIMES before automagically discovering what they mean and how they’re used!
The above video proves exactly my assertions: intensive language learning methods cannot discard the “traditional” ways of learning a language, unless they really want to fail. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is designed by morons and it’s designed to fail: unlike the language methods used since forever but only until the late 1980s, the CEFR-inspired language methods don’t use enough repetition, don’t introduce the grammar issues properly and thoroughly, and the methods seem to be designed for the complete retards! Oftentimes the student has to “discover” what a word means (it’s not defined in any language in the textbook), they have to “discover” what a grammar rule is (the rules are presented, if at all, after they’re used in the text, and they’re presented in e.g. conjugation or declension tables that aren’t completely filled in!), and the textbooks are incomplete and unusable unless used in class. This is a complete U-turn from the traditional methods which, in many cases, could have been used when needed even without a teacher. Say you’re sick, and you miss a math or a chemistry lesson. No problem, the notions are all in the textbook. Oh, you missed a language lesson? Bad luck, the textbook cannot be used; it’s a “modern” method, based on “discovery” during the class interaction!
The DLIFC insists on using the traditional approaches improved with modern concepts (such as the Spaced Repetition System), but beyond that, it’s just hard work and repetition.
Is it that effective, though? I’m a bit skeptical, because with all their attempts at adding cultural references through videos and all, one just cannot grasp in 26 to 64 weeks the so many civilizational specifics needed to really UNDERSTAND those foreign people!
In my case, when I say “I know French,” it’s not just the language, for I am not a linguist! It’s the mix of about 40 years of reading books, comic strips, magazines and newspapers in French, of watching movies with the original French soundtrack, of listening to French music while paying attention to the lyrics (and sometimes specifically for the text, not for the music!), and also more than 30 years of closely following the French politics through the written press, the radio, the TV, the Internet. I’m confident that some French cultural aspects known to me are unknown to most French people under 30 or even 40, and some cultural references are probably missed by many language translators that have never lived in France (I have never lived there either, but it’s as if I did). That’s by no means intensive, quite the contrary, but it’s meaningful. And cultural. (As one of my many interests is Law, I’ve even read a lot of legislation on Légifrance, including many parts of the Code pénal and of the Code civil; but when it comes to the US, in their case there were times when I used to read many SCOTUS Opinions in their entirety! No need to behave like I did.)
So I’m pretty sure the DLIFC methods, no matter how smart they are, cannot make miracles. Nonetheless, they seem to work to some extent, and they might be the state-of-the-art of what’s currently available! (There’s one thing I’m sure of: the Common European Framework of Reference for Screwing the Teaching of Languages is a failure as big as Putin’s vileness.)
But please allow me to paste here some selected comments from YouTube; they might be relevant in evaluating the method told about in the aforementioned video:
I studied German at DLI in the late Eighties. Here was their secret: daily testing and assessment. They’d give you lessons, tons of homework, and a test every morning on the previous day’s work. For us Air Force troops, anything under an 88 was a failing grade. Imagine a school where a “B” is a failing grade! If you failed two days in a row, you washed out. If that happened, they made you a cook or another career. Motivation was high! Throughout the course, they cranked the rigor. At first, they’d give you 50 vocabulary words to memorize daily. By the end of the course, it was 300 words to memorize DAILY! The DLI prepared me to get through college and grad school.
Albus Volt Avern
Military specialist and technical training is absolutely insane. They manage to teach several years worth of knowledge in a couple months.
I just got done with Basic, AIT, and Airborne. I’m a 94E (radio & comms repairs) we learned an MOS that was originally 36 weeks in 17 weeks plus info that was added to the original course and it was cut even shorter due to holiday extended weekends. You do get through it if you keep your head up but it’s an insane amount of information. We got an average of 4-6 hours of sleep every night plus they made me PG so I had to get up earlier to keep proper accountability of everyone in my platoon, I looked healthy as hell in basic training compared to AIT. I was honor graduate and I still wasn’t very confident in my abilities. I just hope I can be proficient in my job since I am national guard and am only practicing my MOS one weekend a month.
By the second week I was dreaming in German… Worth it, but I used to have hair…
Phoenicius Infinius Infensas
@Skeletor: you had me until the “4-6” hours of sleep thing. That’s really dumb on their part. Sleep is the single most important aspect of improvement and learning.
@Phoenicius Infinius Infensas: Usually the military requires like 7 hours minimum each day for trainees at least. I think it’s okay to get less every so often. There’s a lot of strict rules for that sort of stuff, including 3 meals a day. It doesn’t ways get followed, and maybe once you’re a real soldier after basic, there’s less emphasis. Once I got to my unit, I never heard of a sleep requirement rule or anything, but we usually got 6~8 hours of free time in between days. So, you’d work for 16 and be off for 8.
One time I did have to stay awake for 72 hours while on the radio. Had to reply for a radio check once every hour.
Edit: Actually found something on it: “The Office of the Army Surgeon General recommends that soldiers sleep at least seven hours per night, although only a minimum of four hours is required during field training exercises. May 27, 2021.”
I was a contract interpreter for NATO forces in Kosovo, and I was less than impressed with the language skills of US military interpreters there. They had a huge vocabulary, but very weak syntax and stilted, direct translation style that was often difficult for the Russians they were working with to understand. They were helpful to me, because I often lacked the direct terminology or knowledge of certain acronyms as a non-military language specialist, but they often struggled to make the broader point clear. This is the weak point in fast learning. The Russian officers gave me the most generous compliment by telling me, “You say it they way we would say it and not word for word what the other person is saying.” You can’t get that in short classes, no matter how intense.
I learned Korean in 64 weeks in DLI in 2011-2013. What a time! As for “sound and script”, we didn’t have that. We had an “optional” headstart program before the 64 weeks started to learn the sounds in an afternoon and a few phrases for a couple of days. Week 1 of official class was hitting the ground running with introductions/salutations + vocab study.
One Two Three Incorporated
… that’s what S&S is: semester 1.
I honestly don’t consider 64 weeks “fast”. I studied Korean, and recognize it to be among the half-dozen hardest languages offered, but given the density of daily training, I think the time could be cut to under a year if some of the old-school drill and kill, and delayed-speech, etc. methodologies were re-introduced in modern CAI audio-visual garb.
What I’m getting from this video is that you guys have been run through nothing more than a super-intensive version of what I went through in university Korean; and as dumb as that was, if I had to do it morning to evening I’d have wound up speaking like a native in year. If I had to do it leading-edge on the other hand… 6 months. Granted I live where there is a large Korean population, and an all-Korean big supermarket/cafe where you could spend 10 minutes and never hear any English at all.
One Two Three Incorporated
@danR: Yes; could have left out the third semester and most of those of us who had learned how to learn languages before would have been better off because the teaching teams are all “stick”- based and don’t understand basic motivational psychology or modern language learning methods.
One Two Three Incorporated
Late second semester early third is also bad because this is the period where most instructors lack the words to actually describe in English what’s being said in the target language, so basic translate and interpret tests are improperly graded, causing students to spend extra hours in mandatory study sessions before and after class; if a finer method of killing motivation exists I have yet to find it.
@One Two Three Incorporated: bruh s&s was definitely NOT semester 1. I still have my books any sound and script learned was done in 1 day in head start before the start of the course. How are you going to tell me what i went through?
One Two Three Incorporated
@HangulMaster: Bruh how are you telling me what I went through? Or what the students I helped experienced? How are you telling me what my books say and what the books of the students I helped get through that silly place said? Or what we collectively in our schoolhouse called semester one?
@One Two Three Incorporated: except i never said a damn thing about what YOU did you ding dong. If you read either comment i wrote, you’d see it’s of MY experience at a specific time in a specific schoolhouse. So no, we NEVER called it s&s and if we spent semester 1 on that, we’d never get anything done. Hell, even the DLI transcript doesnt call semester 1 anything remotely resembling s&s. But please go off.
In the early 80’s I had a girlfriend who joined the Air Force as a linguist. After basic training she spent 6 months at Lackland AFB in Texas doing a full immersion Russian course. For 6 months they spent 5 days per week on a section of the base where she said they were only allowed to speak Russian from day one. They were forced to learn Russian just to function.
We were learning 75-100 words a day. And those that didn’t or didn’t take it seriously would fall behind quickly.
I attended DLI for German immersion as a military spouse, but it was a special program as we were getting set to move to Germany as part of an exchange program. The experience in the program laid the foundation for my eventual fluency, and it has also helped me learn other languages. Very great video.
I am an Army veteran and graduated the Arabic program at DLI-FLC in 2001. It really was the hardest thing I had ever done up to that time, but it is also one of my proudest accomplishments. The attrition rate for Arabic at the time was 2/3, with half of those being kicked out of DLI entirely for showing a lack of effort. The other half of those were kicked out of the language and may or may not be reassigned a new, easier language for lack of ability. The latter was always more desirable because those people either got put in an easier language class and continued in their jobs or got reassigned to another non-linguist job but usually a decent one. Those kicked for lack of effort, however, typically got chewed out thoroughly for failing to give 100% and then were reassigned to what was often the least desirable job the Army could find for them at the time – they were made an example. The two veterans you interviewed had somewhat differing experiences from mine, but things do change over time in the Army as anywhere else. For example, we actually learned exclusively Modern Standard Arabic for a very long time, and the last portion of our training was more focused on learning three major dialects at the same time while maintaining our MSA skills and preparing for our final exams. We were given about 100 new words every day for most of the course, and the next day we would have a 100 question quiz on those same words worth 100 points total at one point per word. If you scored less than 90 on a quiz, you failed the quiz. The idea as they explained it to me was that in the military, in life and death situations there is no room for error, so 90% is considered the very worst acceptable score, rather like a D- in high school. If you failed three quizzes during the course, you were kicked out of the Arabic program. If you consistently scored at or near the 90% cutoff, you were usually assigned remedial training during your lunch periods and/or after school, usually in the classroom with a teacher or MLI. To graduate with good scores and fluency you had to do a lot of extra study outside of class anyway. I practiced on my own for about six hours a day after class (stayed up late) around my military duties. It paid off, and I graduated at the top of my class, but to say it was intense is an understatement. I did not take “Jack’s” advice much to enjoy Monterey. 9/11 happened during our training there and we were advised we could expect to play a crucial role in the war and that we were to be deployed pretty much immediately upon graduation. I think partly because of that, I wanted to make sure I was as close to native proficiency as I could get. I didn’t want anyone dying because I mistranslated a crucial bit of information. I did make time to explore Monterey a bit on the weekends, but I also kept up on my studies seven days a week, so I went out a lot less than most. Any fun had to fit around that, because I wanted to be the best I could be in my language. I didn’t want to learn Arabic originally (I hate the heat and the dessert), and I even tried in vain once to work out a language trade with a guy in Russian, but I learned to love Arabic and the Arab people in the end. My experiences there spurred a lifelong love of languages and other cultures. I now speak many languages, although Arabic is still my strongest language next to English, and I love being what I call a “word nerd”. Also, something they failed to really mention is that the teachers at DLI are a HUGE part of the success of language learners there, and they deserve a serious shoutout for their dedication, patience, and excellence as teachers. Having native speakers to explain all the nuances of the language makes a huge difference, and the MLI’s rounded it out with their language learning experience. I could not have graduated without all the amazing support of my MLI and الأساتذة (professors/instructors). I still remember every one of their names and faces, and I am still grateful to each of them, although I am sadly aware at least one has passed away now. Anyway, thanks for sharing this. It was a fun walk down memory lane. I hope you don’t mind me sharing my experiences here.
Wonderful story, thank you! Do you believe that the intensity you describe was always beneficial? 100 words a day seems totally unrealistic, however much effort you put in.
@Olly Richards: I do think the intensity was consistently beneficial, at least in my language and in my specific case. The vocabulary tests were extremely hard, but Arabic has a very large lexicon of words to learn, and we had to know a very large portion of them in order to graduate. Despite how difficult it sounds a good number of us did graduate and that should speak for how attainable it actually is with enough focus and effort. I think part of the reason it seems unrealistic to many is the difference in context. As a civilian, perhaps as a college student, there is little riding on your learning a language to a very high level of proficiency in a short period of time. Under most circumstances, the worst that will happen is you could offend someone accidentally, get corrected perhaps, and one day you all look back and laugh about it. Or perhaps you order something disgusting by accident and have to either stomach it or risk offending. In stark contrast, in the Army a single mistranslation at the right moment could cost a life or even multiple lives. The accuracy simply MUST be there. That means knowing all the words, because dictionaries aren’t always around in the field. There were many times I honestly thought I could not meet the high standards to graduate, but I cared a lot about my job and my fellow soldiers, so for me as for many others failure was simply not an option. We worked hard, maybe missed out on some fun here and there, and we definitely went through a lot of stressful study sessions, but we ultimately picked up one of the world’s hardest languages. We went from having never even heard the language before, at least in my case, to professional proficiency in less than two years. I don’t honestly believe that would be possible without that level of intensity. Because I attended just as 9/11 happened, learning the language exceptionally well and learning it quickly was being heavily emphasized in the Arabic classes, as well as a few other languages from the region. I still remember the Colonel visiting our class on 9/11 to tell us all that our jobs had just become a lot more important and we needed to study harder than ever. That is a long explanation to say that under the circumstances and at that time I do think it was necessary, but perhaps not so much under other circumstances. They change policies and approach in accordance with the times, I think. I remember being told that before we arrived things had once been much more relaxed at DLI. We got there just as Drill Sergeants were being brought back to DLI for the first three months of school for Army personnel, then we moved to a more traditional unit structure if our school extended longer than a few months. I understand they have Drill Sergeants the entire length of all schools now, and there are a lot of other changes to their routines. It is still an amazing place, though. It was hard but I have so many fond memories of DLI and would do it again in a heartbeat.
Former ArLing, went through the Arabic program in 1985-86. Since I left ain’t too much change… Your experiences mirror my own to a great degree, though I was Navy. It was a grueling slog… By the middle of the course I remember everyone communicating in “Englabic” or “Arabish.” LOL! Reading about your experiences really took me back. I salute you!
@Simon Smith: I can see the similarities. We also had to improve our English grammar in order to learn Arabic. What I found both surprising and amusing was that most of us also had to improve our English vocabulary to learn Arabic. I fondly remember Ustadh (Arabic honorific for teacher or professor) Gad booming at us in disbelief, “English is your language! English is not even my language, so how it that I know this word and you do not? Hegemony is your word!” Most of the class just sat there staring at him blankly. We all learned a lot of English just so we could understand the English meaning of the Arabic words we were learning. It was a struggle, but also a great experience. I still miss my teachers twenty years later.
I was USAF at DLI in ‘96. Arabic was my language too and it was insanely hard. My biggest issue was speaking. I could NOT speak the language without butchering it. I’m female and have a strong southern accent. The guttural tones combined with my accent was just a mess. I was constantly being told I wasn’t trying hard enough in my speaking and it literally was driving me crazy. No matter how much I practiced my words were not right. Needless to say I did not finish. I was reclassified to civil engineering.
Ryan Hill Defender
@SlavicMuse: I graduated from MSA in 2014 and was also USAF. Good luck. Do not slack at all. Do your homework and listen to BBC Arabic every day for at least 20 minutes even if you have no idea what’s going on. Check out the memrise app and use the dli MSA course on there in addition to your coursework. Take course books seriously. Some teaching teams don’t stress them but do not slack on the books. Learn as much vocabulary as you can and SPEAK the language! I cannot stress how important speaking the language is. I also recommend learning dialects when you can. SATS is also important and you should not slack. Your teaching team may not do any SATS in class but you need to at least look at the book once a week.
@Robert Henderson: I totally agree. I (Army, just graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Classical and Medieval Studies, and a “winner” in Nixon’s draft lottery) went through DLI in Russian in 1971 during the Vietnam war. Those huge nightly vocab lists near the end of the course were impossible but the practice and putting in the hard work were essential. Later while getting my teaching credentials at KU I ran into a section mate (section of 12 students) from DLI. He was working on his PhD in Russian literature. He convinced me to go for a master’s in Russian. KU was one of the 5 top Russian programs in the U.S.–all selected by and heavily funded by the Department of Defense, both faculty and grad students. My DLI Russian Basic Course was the equivalent of a college major at any of those 5 universities. I was able to begin the MA program with no additional coursework to prepare me. As part of my program I studied advanced Russian at Leningrad State University. Only 30 American university students were allowed into the USSR a year. DLI served me well.I taught high school Russian along with Latin in Texas until I retired. One of my 4 year Latin students joined the marines when he graduated and I retired and went through DLI in Arabic. He, like you and I, found it a profoundly formative experience.
I went through DLI for Korean from 2002 to 2003. Full disclosure: I was a washout from the course. I was fortunate enough to be already be multilingual, so I was able to go on to be a military linguist. My main criticism with the DLI method is that they tend to focus heavily on syntax and grammar at the front rather than learning expressing basic needs. I believe that learning a second language as an adult should mirror how one learns their first language: express basic needs and build on that. DLI works because they force a large volume of people through it with the hopes of getting certain percent out. It’s sink or swim there.
You might have found it interesting that the Chinese program did not follow that method at all. Our first phase was Mandarin Chinese, a Modular Approach, and within the first three months we were conversant with precisely what you addressed, namely all the basic needs. So from directions to clothes, food, and all the structure needed to be able to navigate in the language, we had that all up front, then we started building vocabulary and of course working on characters.
Hey thanks for making this video! I’m an Air Force veteran that was trained as a Pashto linguist at DLI. Pashto was particularly difficult, even with our native speaking teaching team. Our entire career was riding on mastering the language in just 64 weeks, so the pressure was high. From day one in our course, English was banned from the classroom (though this rule couldn’t be fully enforced). I do fully subscribe to the immersion method of learning, as it accelerated my understanding at a pace I didn’t think was possible. The course was mostly focused on vocabulary that we’d have to recognize in our missions, not necessarily all things that a native would talk about on a daily basis.
However there was also the misconception among our instructors that it was our only priority. At DLI, it’s military duties first, education second. You could get in serious trouble for things like not marching to class (if you’re in the first couple phases of training), forgetting courtesies around your superiors, or not passing your physical test. And if one person really messes up, we all get punished. Punishment often included standing in formation for hours or scrubbing the dorms top to bottom. All of this affected performance in learning our language and none of the leadership was very understanding of how much we had to juggle just to pass our exams.
Language day was a good time, I loved going around to the various tents and tables and looking at their respective cultural items. Our own contribution was a traditional dance that some of our students participated in with full traditional garb as well. We also enjoyed a an Afghan potluck back in our classrooms, and one of our teachers played a bayan accordion while another drummed on his tabla.
I became enchanted by Afghanistan’s rich culture and poetic language, which kept me going. But if I had to do it again, I’d probably pick another profession.
Very interesting video. As a Finn, we have mandatory Swedish language at school for 8 years, alternative English 5 years, voluntary French 3y and German 3y. I took all of them, and after I was 16 years, I took voluntary Russian (intensive teaching) at the workers’ college (cheap but efficient). When I went to the army, I was transferred to Military Academy where I was taught urban warfare, which is not taught for the infantry.
I studied at DLI in the mid 70’s for almost 2 years, through both basic and extended Russian. I had a degree in Spanish when I enlisted in the Army, and was offered either Russian or Chinese. I decided a language with an alphabet would be easier, although looking back, I think Chinese would have ended up being more useful. I had studied Spanish, French, Italian and a bit of Russian before I went. This was absolutely the best learning experience of my life, and even now, after more than 45 years, I’ve retained a lot of what I learned. (And, there were no enlistment or proficiency bonuses back then!)
In some sense, Chinese is the easiest Cat 4 language. No alphabet is hard to get used to but having basically no real grammar makes it a very simple language if you’re good at rote memorization.
From what I understand Korean and Russian have very difficult grammar rules with conjugations and all that other BS, Chinese has none of that.
@行屍走肉: My husband is a Chinese linguist. He would agree with you.
As someone who went through the Mandarin course in ’03/’04, meh. It’s not that much more useful. Unless you wanna go to China, or some other specific situations, you’re not any more likely to run into Chinese speakers than you are Russian ones. At least, not in my experience, having lived in Hawaii, California, Maryland, and Kentucky over the last ~20 years. And don’t discount the comparative simplicity that having an alphabet brings! Wanna learn a new word in Chinese? No sounding it out, only thing you can do is memorize. While I can still speak and listen decently well, even with 15 years of very little practice, I’m now effectively illiterate, because I’ve not kept up on my memorization of all the characters, and it really doesn’t come up often in day-to-day life of a normal civilian. At least in Russian you can sound it out, which often jogs memory for what it means. And looking things up in a dictionary isn’t a whole-ass skill in and of itself, like it is with Chinese.
I graduated from the Chinese program in ’82, and have worked in PRC, ROC and the skills taught in the program have made all the difference in the world.
@行屍走肉: “All of that other BS” (a highly inflected language with 5 noun / adjective cases and very complex verb conjugation) allows / demands a precision of language / meaning not otherwise possible. As a DLI Russian student 50 years ago I found my knowledge of Latin, which I had studied since I was 14 and Greek grammar made the intricate Russian grammar fairly easy.
Just catching up on my YouTube viewings. I had the honor of going to DLI twice, for two great languages. First trip was for Brazilian Portuguese, and the second time around–Russian. The one benefit few people mention that you get from studying foreign languages–especially those with intense grammar rules like Russian–is a stronger command of English. And while the idea of exposure to culture was mentioned, I don’t believe that pays proper tribute to the exposure that actually occurs. Most of the instructors invest so heavily in their students that a student has to basically give up in order to not succeed. It is truly an amazing experience, and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in learning a language while being in service to the country.
I graduated from the Chinese (Mandarin) program in 1982, and in fact it really is intense. The three longest programs are Chinese/Arabic/Russian, but there used to be a few others that were also quite long, like Albanian, which didn’t have many takers, needless to say. Until 1981 the school had a very relaxed college campus atmosphere, but that changed in 1981 at least for the Navy and Marine Corps students, because the folks in the Russian department really got one of the head instructors very angry for failing to show up to class one day, at which point she called the NCOIC asking why she hadn’t been informed that military duties kept the students out of class, only to be informed that the only military duty they had was to be in class that day!
From that day onward, it became a lot more like a typical school command, which was really horrible given the already existing stress of school…
Now when I attended, I already spoke 6 languages, and there were a few other students who were hyperpolyglots, but the real magic of the military linguist system are two other things far more relevant to the job. The first is the DLAB test, which is a brilliantly crafted examination that can tell if a person has the aptitude to learn a foreign language at all. There were some pupils at DLI who for all intents and purposes were as ignorant as a half a bag of concrete, and yet, the test said they could make it, and in darned near most cases they did in fact make it through the program! The second other thing is that after DLI the linguists attend another special school which used to be called the USAF School for Advanced Applied Cryptologic Sciences at Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo, Texas. This school specializes in taking the language skills of your typical civilian and turning them into the tradecraft of spies/intelligence operatives; a completely different skill set, and one that takes yet another intense course of study. After that, the cryptolinguists are prepared to go out into the field and perform their duties… they still have much to learn, and often also have to specialize in whether they will be Direct Support Operators (DIRSUP) who deploy on aviation, sub-surface and surface platforms, or perform various other types of tactical duties within the intelligence world.
There is one final point at least for the Navy personnel which is a huge motivator, and that is for first-enlistment sailors, if they fail out of DLI, and despite everything, the dropout rate is intensely high (as was the suicide rate for a number of years, but not even close to that of MIT), they can be sent to the fleet as undesignated strikers, which is lower than whaleshit at the bottom of the sea, and truly an existential threat given the typical types of folks who do well on the DLAB and are essentially your typical college students, not high school dropouts and folks who end up undesignated in the fleet! The fear of that happening to you can be extremely motivating because spending up to 4 years + in the bowels of a ship doing the worst duty imaginable just because you failed a vocabulary examination is enough to cause anyone IBS!
So if you are thinking of going to DLI, join the Air Force, not the Navy, as the worst job they’ve got is still not remotely as bad as the best jobs an undesignated striker would face in the fleet! 😉
I attended DLI in 2003, Chinese Mandarin (64 weeks). I initially enlisted in a Military Intelligence Unit (linguist) and worked in the Spanish Section. After 9/11/2001 the unit I was assigned to requested linguists to consider other languages (Korean, Chinese or Arabic), I chose Chinese Mandarin. During my time at DLI we went on field trips to Chinese speaking areas (think china town) and competed in target language against University Students. Outside of class I studied 4 to 6 hours per day. Every day we had a quiz with new vocabulary learned in previous lessons, if you did not maintain a high percentage (like 80-90%) on subsequent quizzes, you were placed in probationary status, and would be remediated/reassigned or dropped. It was very rigorous and I cant say that I enjoyed the pace, but it was worth the effort in the end. More than 50% of my class failed out and were either reassigned or disenrolled. Through my military career it was crucial that I continue to study both languages, specific to the duties I was assigned.
Prior to my military service I attended the Missionary Training Center in Provo Utah to study Spanish(6). I don’t feel that I left the MTC ready to speak Spanish fluently when I arrived in Mexico City. Within 3 months in Mexico I feel I was fluent enough to get along, after 8 months I was fully fluent. After serving a mission I have used Spanish in my military duties, in medical and law enforcement fields. I have used Chinese Mandarin less after my military service but enjoy using it when possible, and am successful in studying to prepare for different work assignments,
Both methods were successful in language training for their specific missions. The key to success is the commitment of the student, immersion, 24/7 language study, and the willingness to speak. Those who are reluctant to make mistakes, and therefore don’t speak the target language will not succeed.
Bart and Pocca
Attended DLI in the mid-nineties. It’s really a wonderful place to spend a year. When I attended, the powers-that-be decided to experiment and lop off three months from the Korean language program, becoming a 51-week course. As a result, 30 out of the original 36 students in our class failed the course. I have no idea what happened to those 30 people. I actually didn’t pass, but was close enough in their minds on the final exam that I graduated as an exemption. They quickly ended the 51 week program after our class. I do remember that our instructors were all kind and professional. We had one instructor, though, who had an intense teaching method, and we called her Dragon Lady. We heard that she was from North Korean, but no one dared to ask her. The experience of attending DLI completely changed the life trajectory I had previously imagined for myself.
Old World Meets New World with Alessandro Massaro
Excellent video, Thanks: The military has always taught languages superbly, even years ago with the Audio-Lingual Method. Why? They can select highly motivated individuals with the potential for language learning and most importantly, the correct attitude. The approaches they use today include but are not limited to Input Plus One, Fluency First, Integrated Skills, and Theme Based Instruction. We are most fortunate to live here!
@Maria: Just thought I’d throw it out there. You never know…lol! He had an amazing lifetime career because of DLI. He was once held at the border leaving the Soviet Union with a group of NASA scientists because his Russian was so good, they accused him of being a Russian attempting to defect, posing as an American interpreter. We were worried as they held him 3 days. He was one of the interpreters at the disarmament talks with Bush and Gorbachev. Brilliantly educated, he passed away in his sleep in Jan 2020, at only 68 yr old and while still serving at the Marshall Center in Garmish. We miss him so much. DLI is top notch.
Listening to what these military students go through leaves me feeling kind of speechless! When I was a youngster I attended an immersion course at a language school in Germany. I thought that was pretty damn intense – but the DLI evidently dials things up to a whole new level of craziness! In the language school I attended we only had classes in the mornings (Monday-Friday) so afternoons were relatively relaxed. They used the direct method where everything was taught in German – indeed the students came from various different countries so there wasn’t a single common language besides German. After about 10 weeks I needed a break – I literally felt as if my head was exploding and I had to chill for a while. I did go back a year later for another 6 months of punishment – followed by some courses at a German university for several months. The whole thing did become easier and easier the longer that I was there, but those initial weeks first time around were as hard as hell.
Again, I can only salute the folks at the DLI – what they are doing sounds like it is even harder going! The only thing you can say, I suppose, is that they are at least being paid to do it!
Hey! Tagalog Language speaker at DLI from 2010’s. Never thought I was good at learning the language, but when I passed the language exam and heard about the bonus (10k if you complete the school) I was in! I think the schedule is not as harsh as you explain here, at least during my time there and in the Marines which is the most disciplined of the branches (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise). Most of the time we were drinking and studying, I remember one of my neighbors would always get drunk and listen full blast to Filipino music for his “study time”. It was the closest think I ever came to a frat house or sorority. 8 hours a day, all together just trying to learn tagalog.
The teachers were also super harsh, I laughed when the guy got the response that his Russian was shit, because that is so true. The teachers let you know when you sound like a 5 year old. But they also care about you and are equally proud when you do well on exams. My teachers at least never spoke slowly and always gave us a hard time when we tried to use English to explain. Every DLI learner will remember when they started dreaming in their target language, and breaking that fourth wall when they start thinking and joking in that language, when they start to prefer the target language over their native one, and finally they feel just as natural speaking that language as they do the English.
8:09 I did the Mormon mission thing. I took a language aptitude test and it was very similar to what Olly described, made up patterns and examples. At the Mormon Language Training School we studied our language 6 days a week and 8 hours a day in class and then hours more of studies. We memorized a book. We were to not speak English or whatever our native language was and only speak our new language 100% of the time, immersion. I found students that were already pretty fluent and chatted with them to practice. I really excelled. We were all tested when we went in. After 4 weeks we were tested again. I went from a 1 to a 3. I was told that had never happened before. A van of language specialists came from the Mormon church headquarters. I was tested about 10 times that day and the next day. At that point I learned how to understand and excel at the TEST. I memorized the conjugations and the irregular verbs and patterns. I really liked learning Spanish and always wished I could have learned many languages like French, German, Italian, Mandarin, and Vietnamese. I travel to Mexico often and love to speak Spanish while there.
Now, regarding the “Mormon mission thing” (How Mormon Missionaries Learn Languages Fast), I refuse to consider this as a good thing. A bloody sect could do better than teach 36,000+ new Mormon missionaries each year for being sent off to various corners of the globe to preach their niche belief!
Zoey Cat’s comment about her having a strong southern accent (“Needless to say I did not finish.”) reminded me of something: the Inglourious Basterds Italian scene:
Of course, it can be worse than that. The French are the worst at pronouncing foreign words, because they make NO effort at all and just pronounce everything as if it were French. I wasn’t mean enough in Le Twitter des cons. You don’t want to know how the French pronounce the name Huntington. It’s as stupidly fucked-up as is Steve Martin’s (as Inspector Clouseau) attempts to pronounce “I would like to buy a hamburger”:
“French hamburger” also in this scene:
I’m not kidding you. Here’s how they pronounce “les hamburgers maison” in this French documentary:
“Hamburger” in the Larousse French dictionary:
Yeah, you’ve heard right. It’s that bad. (Once again, I’m sorry I don’t have a MP3 with “Huntington” as pronounced in France.)
For the unsuspecting Frenchmen out there: decent pronunciations include:
The one from Merriam-Webster (AmEn):
The one from Collins English Dictionary (BrEn):
The one from Dictionary.com (AmEn):
France, le pays des Lumières ? You must be kidding me! They should all be sent to DLI for language training!
Come bonus, un piccolo esercizio d’italiano e una demistificazione della grandezza della Francia come impero coloniale. Un eccellente resoconto della battaglia di Dien Bien Phu, con tutti gli errori immaginabili e inimmaginabili. Un po’ come il fallimento di Putin in Ucraina!
Paul Jorgensen, the guy behind Langfocus, often compares languages in pair, and you’d be surprised to find how many differences are between Russian and Ukrainian, and how many false friends there are:
It looks like an impossible task for someone to master both languages, and yet, many people do!
It seems that I forgot to bash Jay Leno for being just your regular (and dumb) English speaker that pronounces coupé, usually written coupe in AmEn, as if it indeed were about a coupe glass, i.e. coup’. I could have accepted this proof of a complete lack of culture from someone else, but how could a fan of cars like Jay Leno use the same word for a coupé and a coupe glass?
Some interesting considerations, selected from When we talk about emotions and plurilingualism:
The cultural differences in smiling ask for a complement of information: 10 reasons why Russians don’t smile much.
I’m not Polish, nor Russian, but I still believe that smiling all the time, using that meaningless smile of an American shop assistant, is dumb. How can one trust a smile to be genuine and meaningful when the person that smiles uses the same smile, thousands of times a day, just because it’s required by the profession?