Language Training

    The 751st Military Intelligence Battalion, 501st MI Brigade, INSCOM, leads the Army in language proficiency scores. Its success is due to the total involvement of all leaders and the unit’s effective use of mentors.

By Staff Sgt. David W. Gloer

    One of the greatest challenges to the military intelligence commander is achieving effective unit-level language training. Language training must be consistent, comprehensive and realistic. It must provide soldiers with feedback. It must prepare them to succeed, wherever their present unit employs them, and ready them for their next assignment. This is no small task, for the types of missions unit linguists perform are complex and diverse, such as on site nuclear inspection, diplomatic translation, and military liaison deployments.

    The intricate and specialized vocabularies associated with these missions would present a formidable challenge for a language school to teach, much less a unit with hundreds of other tasks in addition to language training. The missions are so diverse they require constant training. Language learning itself is highly perishable in nature and requires regular reinforcement and enhancement. These two reasons (complexity and learning decay) make unit language training essential. To establish a successful program, however, one must first understand how the Army evaluates language proficiency.

Evaluating Proficiency
    The Army’s standard tool for language proficiency evaluation is the Defense Language Proficiency Test version IV. It tests two areas, listening and reading, and generates separate scores for each. For example, the score 1/1 means level one listening, level one reading. The Defense Language Proficiency Test version IV differs from previous test versions in that it is almost entirely news-based, faster paced and covers more subject areas due to the test’s one question per item format. All Army linguists are required to test annually.

    As of this year, failure to attain a minimum score of 2/2 renders soldiers with language dependent occupations ineligible to reenlist. This presents a special challenge to Korean linguists. Not only do they have to contend with the new DA 2/2 requirement, they also have a new test. The Defense Language Proficiency Test version IV, Korean version, was released in 1996. Despite the challenges, meeting standards is an attainable goal with proper unit language training. However, we must first confront and dispel some misconceptions about the subject.

    Many people believe all effective language training must be conducted in a classroom and administered by a university with a foreign language department. They also believe training must be conducted from textbooks with endless drills involving grammar patterns and vocabulary which one may never see in the real world. This fallacy is perpetuated by the schools themselves because they profit from such training.

    Unit personnel advocate the practice for several reasons, including convenience and ease of control. Also, they may prefer classroom- based training because it follows a traditional practice and requires little innovation. Meanwhile, individuals often prefer the classroom because it forces their attendance. It provides the discipline they may be lacking.

    Classroom training can be beneficial, specifically in two cases. First, it is very effective for instilling basic concepts and fundamental vocabulary in those new to a language. Second, it can be an extremely efficient incentive to motivate intermediate and even advanced language students. Therefore, every effort must be made to maximize effectiveness of such training when it is available. But paying a university to train unit linguists is expensive, and there is never enough money to perpetually keep every linguist in classroom training. Because it is expensive, time consuming and sporadic, it can never be depended upon to enhance or maintain language proficiency in the absence of a strong unit language program using military language instructors.

    For the past several years, members of the 751st MI Battalion, 501st MI Brigade, INSCOM, have aggressively identified language problems and implemented innovative solutions. Anticipating the problems linguists would experience with the new Defense Language Proficiency Test IV, unit military language instructors designed practice language tests patterned after it. They also developed independent study materials a year before the new test was scheduled in Korea. This aggressive action proved successful: 88 percent of the 98G population met or exceeded the DA standard of 2/2 in 1995. This sharply contrasts with other Army results in which only 20 percent of linguists in an average unit with category IV language linguists (Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Arabic) meet the 2/2 DA standard.

    In 1997, the 751st MI Battalion leaders anticipate all assigned Korean linguists will meet the 2/2 DA standard. There are four parts to the unit’s language training program: the Individual Language Training Program, FLEX Tutorial, FLEX Intensive and Yonsei Resident Training.

Individual Language Training Program
    The Individual Language Training Program is administered by unit military language instructors. Each soldier is required to complete four hours of language training per week. This is given in the form of homework, which is completed by the soldier and returned to the military language instructor. The instructor corrects it, makes a copy for the language center and returns a corrected copy to the soldier with comments to help the individual understand their personal strengths and weaknesses.

    Individual Language Training Program homework is news-based and created from local Korean language newspapers and magazine articles. Linguists must answer English questions about the articles just as they would on the Defense Language Proficiency Test IV. The material is inexpensive and relatively easy to create, distribute and correct. While minimizing the burden on the military language instructors (an additional duty), the material provides current, interesting and relevant training to the individual. Furthermore, it offers consistency and the greatest measure of control over content and administration.

Yonsei Resident and Non-resident Training
    The 751st MI Battalion currently is under contract with Yonsei University, a major Korean college, for some of the language training received by unit linguists. Yonsei Korean language training is categorized into four types of training: a one year course and a 10 week training course on campus and two off campus programs (five weeks and 10 weeks in length). The two non-resident programs, tutorial and intensive, are available for in-unit training (FLEX).

    There are six different levels of training and all four courses use the same curriculum. For example, a soldier studying Yonsei level two in-unit (either tutorial or intensive) receives the same training as that offered on-campus for that level. Placement tests are given prior to selection for any of the courses and competition is encouraged. The battalion uses three of the four offered courses: non resident 10 week (FLEX tutorial), non-resident five week (FLEX intensive) and the 10 week course.

FLEX Tutorial

    Up to 12 of the battalion’s Korean linguists are selected every 10 weeks to attend FLEX tutorial training. FLEX tutorial is a 10 week course administered in-unit by Yonsei University instructors. Participating soldiers train 12 hours each week in addition to four hours training in the Individual Language Training Program. Soldiers spend four hours with a professional Korean language instructor (two students per instructor), two hours in study hall, and complete six hours of FLEX homework.

    Because soldiers invest considerable personal time in training, top priority is given to those who fail to meet the DA 2/2 standard for language proficiency. Below standard linguists can avoid this unpleasant training if they score high on the placement test. A few slots in intensive training are used as an incentive for substandard linguists who score upper level on the placement test.

FLEX Intensive

    FLEX intensive is a five week, 40-hour-per-week training course conducted in-unit. Soldiers are exempt from duty while attending the training and exempt from participating in the Individual Language Training Program. First priority is given to soldiers who meet or exceed the 2/2 standard; substandard linguists can be enrolled based on placement test score and seating availability. Maximum class size is eight students per instructor. Of the six levels of Yonsei training, levels two through four are conducted in-unit. Level five and six are offered at Yonsei University on-campus.

Yonsei On-campus Course

    Linguists from the 751st MI Battalion who meet the Defense Language Proficiency Test 2/2 standard and score high enough on the placement test at Yonsei level five can compete for a seat at Yonsei University to attend the 10 week course. Students live on campus in an immersion environment and attend 40 hours of training weekly. Upon completion of level six, linguists receive a certificate stating they have completed the prestigious one year training course. The battalion sends one linguist each term to participate in this training. This encourages upper-level linguists to excel while adding to the Army’s pool of linguists having graduated from the Yonsei year program

Strategy for Success

    The key to the success of the program can be linked to a strategy that emphasizes cooperation among everyone involved in the training process. Force XXI, as the local program is named, identifies the three key participants in the training process as the commander, the mentor and the individual linguist.

    Genuine command support is essential to the success of any language training program. To ensure success, the commander must give language training a high priority and constantly demand results. The importance of the commander’s unfailing support cannot be overstated. If the commander becomes the least bit complacent, the program’s momentum is lost and atrophy sets in. The 751st MI Battalion leaders require every linguist to complete four hours of language training per week.

    Company commanders brief language training results to the battalion commander at the weekly training meeting and report Defense Language Proficiency Test IV results by name. Trainers, supervisors and individuals account personally for success or failure.

    The battalion commander convenes language council meetings monthly, the council discusses language training issues, addresses problems and formulates solutions. The brigade commander meets the council quarterly and reviews language training in the quarterly training brief. From company to brigade, language training receives emphasis because it is an essential ingredient in a successful language training program.

Mentor Program

    The commander appoints language mentors from among the unit’s finest linguists. Their selection is based primarily upon Defense Language Proficiency Test IV scores, but the commander also considers the individual’s demonstrated initiative and potential to be an effective teacher. The 751st MI Battalion leaders emphasize it is not enough to attain personal proficiency; all linguists who meet the standard have an obligation to help others also attain fluency.

    Upon arriving at the unit, each linguist is assigned a mentor. Each week, the mentor issues homework from the unit’s locally developed materials. The following week, the mentor evaluates the homework, corrects it and returns it to the soldier for discussion. A copy of the homework is kept on file to aid the commander in evaluating the progress of an individual soldier. The mentor teaches the linguist the short cuts to fluency, teaching not only what to study but also how to learn.

    Authentic high level materials are used for instruction. Examples include newspapers, magazines and audio tapes of news broadcasts. Everything from articles about weapons technology and nuclear reactors to stories about the weather and traffic are included in the training. The mentoring cycle of evaluation, correction and reevaluation gives linguists a sense of accomplishment and the recognition that they, too, can function at the highest levels of proficiency. As a result, many linguists continue to develop personal language skills and begin to seek their own study materials.

Individual Linguist

    The greatest obstacle to establishing a successful program is often the individual linguist. If training is to be effective, the leaders must first condition individuals to respond favorably to language training and assume responsibility for personal proficiency. Many programs fail at the individual responsibility level because the individual linguist is a passive component in the training process. The linguist either takes no responsibility for learning or does not take enough responsibility to achieve significant proficiency.

    To get the individual actively involved in the training ("conditioning") the individual requires zealous monitoring and enforcement by the commander. The goal of conditioning is to transform linguists from passive bystanders into motivated self-starters, who aggressively take advantage of any learning opportunity. Self-starters will read a foreign novel or watch the news or a movie in the assigned language voluntarily.

    The key to evoking this desired behavior lies in the consistent use of rewards and punishments. The commander must offer positive incentives to those who meet or exceed the standard. Offering expensive out-of-unit-training to these linguists is only one incentive the commander can use to encourage excellence. Conversely, forcing those who are substandard to invest personal time in structured language training is an effective tool the commander can use to condition linguists.

    In the 751st MI Battalion, substandard linguists must spend personal time in supervised language study by enrolling in the Yonsei Tutorial Program (FLEX Tutorial) in addition to participating in the Individual Language Training Program. During this training, they must report for duty at their normal job and are not eligible for out-of-unit (temporary duty) language training.

    Linguists who meet the DA 2/2 standard are rewarded for their success. They compete for seats in resident and nonresident training, are exempted from duty while attending language training and, during language training, are exempted from Individual Language Training Program requirements. Soldiers who score level five on the Yonsei placement test can compete for training at the prestigious Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea. They can live on campus and study in a classroom uninterrupted for 10 weeks.


    Language training in the 751st MI Battalion is a dynamic, aggressive and constantly evolving process. Two reasons the program has been such an unqualified success are the total involvement by all leaders and the unit’s effective use of mentors. The greatest achievement of the program lies in its ability to develop a sense of urgency in the individual linguists, who then become personally involved in their own proficiency.

    Staff Sgt. David W. Gloer is the 1995 INSCOM Linguist of the Year. He is the mission manager at the 751st MI Battalion, 501st MI Brigade, INSCOM.

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   Last Updated: April 30, 1997