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    Military Linguists Appreciation for International Translation Day



    Story by Alicia McNeely 

    U.S. Naval Support Activity Naples

    Every year on Sept. 30, the United Nations observes “International Translation Day” in recognition of language careers. This date is the Catholic feast honoring St. Jerome, an Italian priest who translated books of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin during the fourth century. Today, St. Jerome is the patron saint of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) and military linguists.

    Linguists – although often invisible – are responsible for many of the resources that make living overseas more comprehensible and convenient onboard Naval Support Activity (NSA) Naples. Sailors, civilian employees and family members within the NSA Naples community take classes and converse with locals to learn Italian, but it takes years of studying and practice to even broach fluency. Navigating daily life in one’s non-native language is often challenging. Significant tasks, such as preparing housing contracts or dealing with a traffic accident, may be too difficult for novices. Thankfully, that is where the experts come in: professional translators and interpreters. Translators work with the written word, and interpreters with the spoken.

    Onboard NSA Naples, Italian employees translate and interpret in a variety of settings. Interpreters assigned to the NSA Naples local dispatch center connect Americans with Italian first responders and facilitate communication between the parties in emergency situations. Translators throughout NSA Naples and its tenant commands support regular contact between military personnel and host nation authorities, analyze and explain Italian laws and protocols, and share significant base-centric announcements with area news outlets.

    Teresa Merola, NSA Naples community relations specialist, studied languages – English and Spanish – and modern literature at L'Università IULM in Milan. As a liaison between the NSA Naples public affairs office and the Neapolitan community, she often translates installation information and press releases to disseminate to the local media.

    “My translation work is very diverse. Recently, I translated the poem ‘Olde Glory’ from English into Italian for the change of command last month. It was particularly challenging because the American flag was personified, and I had to reverablize that in a creative way,” said Merola. “On the other hand, a few years ago, I translated a lengthy operational guide publication that was very technical. It was full of ‘military speak,’ and referenced specific organizations and strategies that are unique to the U.S. Navy. This kind of translation requires a lot of precision, preparation and research.”

    In addition to local national employees onboard NSA Naples, Sailors throughout the Navy work as translators and interpreters behind the scenes and on the frontlines to ensure readiness, meet the mission, and carry out operations in foreign language areas and with non-English speakers.

    One of these naval linguists is Chief Mass Communication Specialist John Hageman, assigned to Navy Public Affairs Support Element East Detachment Europe, Naples, Italy. Hageman grew up in Switzerland and France, and for a part of his life, French was his primary language. He has an associate degree in Mandarin and studied at DLIFLC. Since he is bilingual and learned in a third language, he previously served as a lithographer on USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and a cryptology technician (interpretive) (CTI) at National Security Agency/Central Security Service Hawaii, respectively.

    “Originally I was used as the ship’s interpreter while in French speaking areas. I would translate pamphlets and such prior to arriving. Then, I would interpret for meetings, receptions and speeches,” said Hageman. “Once a CTI, I specialized in the analysis of foreign language materials and the preparation of statistical studies and technical reports. I translated, interpreted and transcribed foreign language communications data, analyzed and reported highly technical information of strategic and tactical importance to fleet commanders and national intelligence agencies.”

    The work Hageman did and other military linguists do every day is no small feat: taking a word and rendering it into a different language is not straightforward. In Italian, the saying “traduttore, traditore,” or “translator, traitor,” suggests the idea that exact equivalents do not exist between languages. Cultural nuances, historical connotations and subtext are intricate parts of communication that create an inherent divide between what an author, or speaker, intends the meaning to be and how it is expressed in another tongue.

    “There are a few rather challenging aspects to interpreting. Since it is real time, you must be able to convey not only the actual translation, but also the proper cultural context. What might makes sense in one language, might not make any sense in the other,” said Hageman. “For example, the French saying ‘chercher la petite bête’ directly translated is ‘to look for the little beast,’ but what that means is ‘to find something to complain about.’”

    Translators and interpreters are intermediaries, both in formal and informal contexts, and they engage with texts and conversations across various fields of knowledge. They may encounter specialized terminology that is unfamiliar even in their native languages, as well as slang words or idiomatic phrases used only in specific areas by particular groups.

    “Most interpreters have a very large vocabulary in both languages, but there will be times where a speaker uses a word that you might be unfamiliar with,” said Hageman. “Especially when it comes to technical terms or some local colloquial sayings.”

    Hageman noted that although at times complex, he found his work rewarding, especially when it directly impacted naval success.

    “When you are able to use your skills to get the missions done, you really get that sense of achievement,” he said. “You know that you are an incredibly valued member of the team, and they couldn’t do what they needed to without you.”

    Multicultural and multilingual communications are vital in today’s military global operations. Thanks to the Sailors who provide high-quality translation, interpretation and language-related support to the fleet and personnel – along with the service of local national employees onboard NSA Naples and installations worldwide – the Navy is able to accomplish quotidian tasks and mission success across ships, across seas and across languages.

    NSA Naples is an operational ashore base that enables U.S., allied, and partner nation forces to be where they are needed, when they are needed to ensure security and stability in Europe, Africa, and Southwest Asia.

    For more news about NSA Naples and the Sailors who serve onboard the installation, please follow us on Instagram @NSANaples and Facebook at



    Date Taken: 09.16.2020
    Date Posted: 10.08.2020 09:30
    Story ID: 380536
    Location: NAPLES, IT 

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