Learning Languages for Global Development

091222-A-4076B-098 (Photo credit: isafmedia)

This blog post describes steps how the USAID development organization is taking steps towards establishing better ties between the US and Pakistan/Afghanistan.  The problem was that USAID workers did not have enough experience in the country to establish good relationships with locals and partners.  The new program takes workers with experience in Pakistan and/or Afghanistan and trains them for longer-term work.  Training consists of language and culture.

The Pentagon program that this is based on offers an initial 16 weeks of language and culture training in the US.  (Before and after this they are trained in counter-insurgency techniques.)   The article continues, “Once in-country they get another five days of concentrated cultural training, then complete roughly two weeks of additional language training.”  They hope to have trainees speaking Dari, Pashto, or Urdu (depending on where they will be deploying) 50% of the time during training.

I find it interesting that the course is 16 weeks.  That is a little longer than an academic semester., which seems short for learning a language.  What it implies to me is that the course teaches the basics, and the learner is expected to learn on his or her own through day-to-day interactions.  (On a side note, the in-country lessons are supposed to make them speak the language at least 50% of the time.  When I’ve been abroad I’ve spoken the language near 100% of the time.  But I’m sure the Af-Pak folks have more complex assignments than I had.)

I’m pleased that US global development is putting resources into such important language training.  The ability to function efficiently in a country depends strongly on an organization’s ability to navigate the linguistic terrain.  For some reason, this fact comes most obviously to the military, and development follows the military’s lead.

What do you think the military understands that development does not?

3 thoughts on “Learning Languages for Global Development

  1. Pingback: Problem of Intermediate Language Learning « Loving Language

  2. Pingback: Languages of Afghanistan | Language Learning System

  3. Pingback: What I learned about language-learning: 2012 « Loving Language

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