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January 16, 2011:  The U.S. Defense Language Institute (DLI), in San Francisco, has supplied translators and interpreters to the U.S. armed forces since 1963. During the Cold War, emphasis was on Russian, but since that conflict ended in 1991, the number of languages taught has expanded, and now includes 40. Another expansion since the 1990s, and especially since 2001, has been the use of instruction teams sent to units headed to a combat zone, and the use of the Internet to deliver instruction and special materials (like Phrase Cards). The instruction teams help troops learn key phrases, and how to say them right. These are short courses, but the use of expert instructors (often Americans who were born in Iraq or Afghanistan) makes a big difference. To service American units stationed in Europe, who also get sent to Afghanistan on a regular basis, DLI has just opened a branch office in Germany, to better provide more prompt and effective instruction.

The DLI use of the Internet to provide services makes it possible to quickly respond to new needs. An example of this occurred a year ago, when thousands of U.S. troops headed to Haiti, to help deal with the recent earthquake. The DLI sent out thousands of items to help deal with the French dialect spoken in Haiti. One item that was rushed out was the Phrase Card, which, as its name implies, is a small, weatherized card containing useful words and phrases troops on the ground will need. But many troops got that information almost instantly, by downloading a text version to their cell phones. U.S. troops are particularly fond of the iPhone (and similar iPod Touch) and Android smart phones, and are more likely to own these items than the general public. In addition to being a cell phone, these smart phones are a hand held computer (which the Touch is also, being an iPhone without the phone). In addition to thousands of games that can be downloaded from the App Store, there are also many other useful (to military personnel) programs available. There's even a free program for learning Haitian French (commonly called Creole, which is what you call a version of a language that is very different from the original). Text versions of the Defense Language Institute phrase card were quickly emailed to thousands of military smart phone/Touch users, who now had something else to do with their little computer when they had a little down time.

 


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