News: ANA soldiers learn to speak English, bridge gap
Story by Spc. Brian Glass
By U.S. Army Spc. Brian Glass
COMBAT OUTPOST SAYED, Afghanistan - To help bridge the communication gap and further relations with their U.S. counterparts, Afghan National Army soldiers are taking an English-speaking class on Combat Outpost Sayed Abad in eastern Afghanistan.
U.S. Army soldiers teach the classes six days a week. The Afghan soldiers understand the significance of constructing the building blocks of fundamental communication.
“It’s so important for everyone here, for the armies because we have operations and activities with the U.S. Army,” said ANA 1st Sgt. Rahmani Louqman, stationed in Sayed Abad. “It makes the U.S. Army and Afghan army [work] closer together. We’d like to attend more classes in the future, too.”
The classes are one hour daily and tailored to improve ANA soldiers daily interaction with coalition forces.
“They’re never going to be in Chicago and order a pizza, so we did tailor it to make it relevant for them,” said U.S. Army Spc. Robert Dodson of St. Louis, assigned to 307th Psychological Operations Company. “So, we’ve been able to ... come up with vocabulary lists or catch phrases.”
Dodson said he does not just stand up in front of the class and teach. He makes sure the ANA soldiers participate in the class. This method of instruction gives him running assessments of how well ANA soldiers are grasping the English language.
“What we do is [create] scenarios and then pair them up and let them do [their] thing,” Dodson said. “[I] definitely try to gear it toward ... [me] doing less talking and them doing more talking.
“So we’ll pull ‘Joe Soldier,’ who’s just walking by and have them run the same scenarios [using] the same dialogue. Because the dialogue might not always follow the format, [ANA soldiers] might not respond properly.”
The ANA soldiers understand the importance of learning English to work with coalition forces. ANA 1st Lt. Muhammad Afzal, ANA religious officer in Sayed Abad, speaks three languages and said he still realizes the impact that learning English has on him and his men.
“I know three languages: Pashtu, Arabic and Dari; but right now, I think English is a global language,” Afzal said. “In this situation, the Afghan army needs to learn English; first, so that they can solve problems by themselves so they don’t call an interpreter when they need [help]. If they know the English language, they can solve problems and misunderstandings.”
U.S. Army Cpl. Neil Jones of St. Louis, 307th PSYOPS Company, teaches the class with Dodson. Jones believes basic dialogue is the way of making relations easier between ANA soldiers and coalition forces.
“My focus in the beginning [is] to make sure they could introduce themselves to any [American],” Jones said. “It’s a ‘Hello, my name is _______. It’s nice to meet you.’
“We also started off with basic conversation. For us to be able to do that for them, [that] also ... bridges [the] gap ... for us,” Jones continued. “When you watch the body language of the U.S. soldier, when they are able to greet them, you see the shoulders drop and relax. You see that [they are] relaxing and they start to smile, because they’re trying. That’s all we’re asking for is an effort. That effort goes for miles.”
When it comes to conducting joint patrols with coalition forces, ANA soldiers understand the need to communicate effectively, especially if they receive enemy contact. Knowing where they are and where to shoot is critical to mission success.
“We’re teaching them [to speak] cardinal directions - north, south, east and west. We’re teaching them how to react to an improvised explosive device [and to] react to contact - indirect as well as small-arms,” Jones said. “When you tell them distance in English they will understand that. When you say the enemy is 500 meters behind cover ... you need them to be able to understand that. They need to know that, as an integrated team.
“I can’t imagine being in a country and someone is yelling at you in a foreign language and you are trying to figure out which way to go,” Jones continued. “We’re just trying to get them on the same sheet of music.”
Everything Jones and Dodson do to teach, combined with the ANA soldiers’ willingness to learn, shows signs for great improvement in the future. The ANA soldiers have made great improvements in a short time. They are excited about what they can learn next.
“I see a big difference right now. For example, in 2005 in a meeting, I was asked to bring a radio from one of the U.S. guys,” Louqman said. “At the time, I didn’t know any English. I didn’t get what kind of radio was wanted ... [and] I didn’t know the name of the radio. Since I’ve been attending this class, they have [taught me] a lot. I can solve my own problems by myself. It’s very important to have classes for all my soldiers to know English.”