News: HILT prepares soldiers for Defense Language Proficiency Testing
Story by Staff Sgt. Mark Miranda
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – Linguists from Joint Base Lewis-McCHord, Wash., the Army National Guard and Reserve units put their foreign language skills to the test during a course that would immerse them in the local culture of their target language.
The 341st Military Intelligence Battalion (Linguist) and the JBLM Foreign Language Training Center invited military linguists to High Intensity Language Training for three weeks in June to prepare them for their annual Defense Language Proficiency Test.
This HILT session offered full programs in Chinese Mandarin, Persian Farsi and Arabic; as well as refresher courses in French and Spanish.
“The program provides the opportunity for students to receive instruction in their target language for the duration of the day,” said Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Cunningham, command language program manager.
“Students eat, converse and study in the language with their teachers. In order to provide the most benefit to all participants, activities are conducted using the target language. No English is tolerated for the duration of the training.”
Students were placed in either intermediate or advanced classes according to their proficiency levels, as determined by the JBLM Foreign Language Training Center. It is also based upon a student’s most recent Defense Language Proficiency Test score, an annual requirement that certifies a Soldier’s language skill level.
The 12-hour days typically consisted of classroom activities, study hall, and homework. Most of the seminars took place at the Western Region Foreign Language Training Center at JBLM, but also included instructor-organized off-post activities.
“These activities enable the class to take advantage of the various cultural markets, restaurants, and facilities in the local area that utilize the student’s target language,” said Cunningham, a resident of Fife, Wash.
Students volunteering for the courses had to be proficient in their target language at a minimum level of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages rating of “intermediate-high.”
Spc. Eric Francois, a human intelligence collector from Dubuque, Iowa, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 34th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, Iowa National Guard, took the HILT to improve his Farsi.
“We began with basic vocabulary the first few days and took a few quizzes; the bulk of the material we were reading was news-related,” Francois said. “We used websites such as Voice of America, British Broadcasting Corporation and Al Jazeera to practice translating current events.”
“While this course wasn’t required for my job, I took the opportunity since it was offered. The class expanded my knowledge of places such as Iran where Farsi is spoken,” Francois said.
Soldiers like Staff Sgt. Alexandra Casteel, who are cryptologic linguists in an intelligence section, have the primary task of providing translation expertise to analysts.
“Aside from practical use of language, part of the focus in the course discussed political issues and cultural aspects,” said Casteel, a native of San Antonio, Texas, assigned to National Security Agency/Central Security Service, Fort Gordon, Ga.
For Casteel, Francois and other students, HILT took their training beyond the initial language instruction they received at the Defense Language Institute at Monterey, Calif.
“The days were long, but our instructors were great with mixing things into the course like showing how to respond to hospitality gestures during meals,” Casteel said.
As part of the HILT program, students took the Defense Language Proficiency Test June 19-20.
“Everyone is required to take the DLPT as this event is organized with the end state of language qualification,” Cunningham said.
While oral proficiency interviews are sometimes administered to Defense Language Institute students to establish the graduate’s speaking proficiency, it is not part of the DLPT.
The tests are meant to measure how well a person can function in real-life situations in a foreign language according to defined linguistic tasks and assessment criteria.
The DLPT is also used to rate the skill level of military language analysts, who are tested once a year in the skills of reading and listening. This yearly testing determines the level of foreign language proficiency pay that a language analyst receives.
“The DLPT scores may also figure into the readiness rating of a military linguist unit,” Cunningham said.
Francois felt that the benefits of the language immersion aspect of the course were vital for the learning process.
“It’s mentally exhausting, doing this for 12-hour days seven days straight through.
“Thinking in the language, then speaking the language with other students was helpful, but having teachers who are native speakers of the language made all the difference – and I’m coming away with more confidence with my understanding of it.”