MONTEREY, Calif. (NNS) -- If someone wants to learn a foreign language, they must do four things: study, study, study, and immerse themselves in the language and culture. The first three things anyone can do. The last one is tougher, unless you are a student assigned to Information Warfare Training Command (IWTC) Monterey.
IWTC Monterey is situated on the Presidio of Monterey, home of the Defense Language Institute (DLI). This is where prospective Navy linguists embark on their journey of foreign language acquisition alongside their joint-service counterparts.
The “study” step in language learning is deeply ingrained in the culture of DLI, with most students dedicating as many as three to five hours to homework and language practice outside of daily class hours.
Then, for students who meet certain academic and military benchmarks, come the immersions. Several of the most rigorous language programs at DLI have partnered with institutes of higher learning in Chile, Morocco, Latvia, and other areas to offer a four-to-six-week in-country immersion for DLI students. These excursions, typically conducted around two-thirds of the way through the course, break students out of their classroom environment and push them to fully utilize everything they have learned thus far. They immerse students into their languages by living in regions where their languages are natively spoken, boosting confidence and improving their overall skill level.
"The key to learning a foreign language is through multiple methods,” said Cmdr. Michael Salehi, commanding officer of IWTC Monterey. “For some students, immersions provide an excellent tool to augment their classroom learning in a real-world environment that can't necessarily be turned off. This environment forces students to push themselves out of their comfort zones, quickly adapt, and harness existing language and culture skills to assure mutual communication. It's amazing to see some students after immersions and how much their confidence has been bolstered because the environment pushed them to achieve something greater than they initially thought they could. The confidence in itself is an incredible motivator and enabler for continued language learning."
Seaman Hayden Griffith, an IWTC Sailor and student of the Chinese language, recently returned from one of these immersions in Taiwan. Griffith felt his experience applying his language overseas was immensely helpful to his learning.
“I was forced to use Chinese in almost all of my interactions,” said Griffith. “The interactions came more naturally than in the typical classroom environment at DLI.”
This trip was his first ever to a country in Asia. Naturally, there was some culture shock to overcome. For example, upon arriving to Taiwan, he was shocked at how small the meal portions were.
“I adapted quickly though, and upon my return to the U.S., I found myself eating smaller-than-average portions and I even shed a few pounds,” added Griffith.
Additionally, he was surprised that, while a car is seen as a necessity here in the U.S., it is not in Taiwan. He noted that it was not only convenient, but expected to walk or use public transportation as the primary means of getting around.
As a student of Mandarin Chinese studying in Taiwan, he was faced with cultural and linguistic obstacles for which he was not entirely prepared. The Chinese spoken in Taiwan has a slightly different accent than what he had been learning at DLI, making casual conversation a bit more challenging.
Then there was the written language, which generally consists of characters and shapes that represent words and phrases. Many of these characters differ between Taiwan and mainland China, similar to the way “soda” and “pop” describe the same thing in different regions of the U.S. But since these characters are not based on a phonetic alphabet like English, he soon found himself face to face with an indecipherable restaurant menu.
In class, Griffith studied characters for common Chinese foods and specialties, but when it came to Taiwanese cuisine, he did not know what many of the characters represented or how they were pronounced. He recalled pointing to menu items, then waiting hopefully for his mystery meal to arrive. Since he was not always in the mood for a mystery meal, he eventually used his verbal Chinese skills to communicate with locals and find out what was good.
“My trip to Taiwan was meaningful to me,” shared Griffith. “After a year of learning, I could communicate effectively with people who, if I hadn't studied Chinese, I wouldn't have ever had the pleasure to meet. I was able to visit and learn the historical significance of places in Taiwan that I never would have seen or heard of if I hadn't studied Chinese. n short, Chinese has not only given me countless opportunities that I had never before dreamed of, but also has molded me into a better person with a bigger worldview.”
IWTC Monterey, as part of the Center for Information Warfare Training, provides a continuum of foreign language training to Navy personnel, which prepares them to conduct information warfare across the full spectrum of military operations.
With four schoolhouse commands, two detachments, and training sites throughout the United States and Japan, CIWT is recognized as Naval Education and Training Command’s top learning center for the past two years. Training over 21,000 students every year, CIWT delivers trained information warfare professionals to the Navy and joint services. CIWT also offers more than 200 courses for cryptologic technicians, intelligence specialists, information systems technicians, electronics technicians, and officers in the information warfare community.
For more news from Center for Information Warfare Training, visit www.navy.mil/local/cid/.