Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:14 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:14 | SYDNEY

Refreshing language in the ADF

19 June 2009 17:20

Who says future conflict is only about high technology and robotics? With captivating publications about such as Peter Singer’s recent book, Wired for War, it’s important for the military to keep a balance in the sources it uses in decision-making, and to take account of the human dimension.

The ADF uses cutting-edge language learning tools for in-theatre translation, but there is always a need for ‘humans in the loop’ when engaging across cultures.

Working in the Coalition corps headquarters with the Iraqi Army command, I was able to see the value to combined planning of operations that linguists bring, particularly when there's empathy between the cultures involved. 

I had to shuttle continually between both HQs to present the same plan and same maps — but in two languages (thank you, PowerPoint!) and to two commanders with very different sets of perspectives. I would have had no chance without the translators and interpreters helping my Iraqi planning counterpart and me. The result was the first operations order at that level issued in both English and Arabic.

I’ve just returned from two weeks' foreign language requalification at the Defence Force School of Languages in Melbourne. Army personnel qualified in Indonesian, Arabic, Vietnamese, French, Persian Farsi, Dari and Thai are required to attend, after two years or more since their last qualification.  Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Malay, Russian Portuguese, Mandarin and Filipino are also included on the schedule. Others such as Pashtu and Urdu are taught at the School, but they’re not yet on the ‘refresher’ scheme.

Further in-country immersion training broadens soldiers in the language and culture of particular regions as part of the Army’s broader language and cultural studies programme. Importantly, this programme isn’t confined to the intelligence or communications trades: anyone interacting with other cultures need some level of skills. Such skills ensure that soldiers understand the human environment they find themselves operating in, and thereby improves their tactical decisions. This applies whether on operational missions, or in engagement with Australia’s international partners. 

Australia's focus on the human dimension of conflict was recently reinforced by the White Paper announcement to allocate a further $20 million on language and cultural skills.  It’s an indication that despite the growing influence of high technology, the human dimension of the profession of arms is considered worthy of increased investment.