TRANSLATION PROBLEMS SERVE AMERICA POORLY ABROAD, ESPECIALLY in WAR ZONES-WHY ISN'T the GOVERNMENT PUMPING BILLIONS into TRAINING AMERICANS to SPEAK, READ AND TRANSLATE FOREIGN LANGUAGES, instead?
By Kevin Stoda, American teaching in Kuwait
I have been certified in teaching English, Spanish and German for nearly two decades. In the interim, I have taught foreign languages in Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the Unite Arab Emirates, and Kuwait. I have also worked in or volunteered in Honduras, Spain and Costa Rica. However, my original field of teacher training was history and the social sciences.
Meanwhile, I have also observed over the past three decades that America continues to be way behind the curve in terms of "global intelligence'.
By using the phrase "global intelligence", I am not just implying CIA-style or military intelligence. I am referring to all the range of common-sense-, geographic-, person-to-person-, and emotional intelligences which enable one to communicate well orally or in writing. Moreover, I am referring to the cultural, social, political, anthropologic, and ethnic intelligences needed to compete fairly and properly in a global market place, such as in China today.
Having spent a great portion of my adult life as an American ambassador abroad, I have often taken time to learn as much as I could about the language and culture where I have been working in. Therefore, I have some competence in reading Arabic and in speaking Japanese as well.
Believe me! Even if immersed in a different culture most of one's working day, one still has to work hard to acquire those linguistic and socio-cultural intelligences mentioned above.
However, American government officials, generals, and leaders in the American economy have never applied the time and resources necessary to acquire language competencies at an acceptable level-at least not since WWII.
Moreover, there has been a common belief that buying or hiring the right people who do have such competence, any company or military can function well in a foreign land.
Mistakenly, it is also commonly believed that by hiring those people with both some language skills and personal connections along the way, any company or army can overcome all the most important obstacles and language-cultural deficits.
A CULTURE OF EXCESS AND LOW LEVEL ACHIEVEMENT
According to CorpWatch Managing Editor, Pratap Chatterjee, who was embedded recently with U.S. troops in Iraq , " Remember, out of the 160,000 troops, we had 100,000 stay on the bases. And they are really not-we talked to a soldier, and we said, 'Well, what do you-how do you communicate with Iraqis?' And he said, 'Well, you know, the Iraqis on the base, they're pretty happy.' And I'm like, 'But there aren't any Iraqis on the base. The people you're meeting on the base are Indian.' And this food is provided, you know, to the troops by Indian workers who are paid, if they're cleaners, $9 a day; if they're cooks, $20 a day; if you're a cashier, $30 a day. And it's driven in by Fijian truck drivers. And I spent some time hanging out with Fijian truck drivers in Kuwait. These guys have driven a hundred trips to Iraq, from Kuwait City to Mosul, to Anaconda, to places around there, and they're paid $180 a trip. So the very fact that there are beans and bullets in Iraq is a result of, you know, third world workers providing this stuff to troops."
Only an under-competent (culturally and linguistically) military force would not know that the people around them for months at a time were speaking Hindi and other languages rather than Arabic. That is, only an under trained (in terms of language and culture group of enemy) 100,000 man force sitting on bases in Iraq could manage to state with calmness and a straight face, "Reading the media, you know, I thought this was a lot more dangerous place."
Nonetheless, this is the kind of comment Managing Editor Chatterjee of Corp Watch reported in a recent Democracy Now interview. He adds, "And the idea really is, when soldiers are there, is they get provided with good food, as much of it as they want. They get food four times a day. They have internet. They have video games they can play. The idea is to remove them from the reality of Iraq and to make them feel at home. And we were talking to a young soldier from Mississippi, and he said, "Reading the media, you know, I thought this was a lot more dangerous place."