Cove Thoughts - Episode 1: Do you speaka my language?

By The Cove April 6, 2020

Linguists provide the Australian Army with a unique capability on operational deployments. Without them, the Army would struggle to communicate with local populations, advise and mentor partnered forces, or develop a true understanding of the operational environment. However, the opportunities for gaining formal language skills within the Army are few and far between. Is the Army really as future ready as it needs to be regarding language skills?

In this episode of Cove Thoughts, we are joined by a range of guests to examine the operational importance of Army linguists, look at how the Army currently trains its linguists, and explore some alternate ways in which soldiers can develop language skills.

Has this podcast interested you in learning a language? There are so many different apps and courses out there it can be difficult to know where to start. Check out this review of some of the leading language providers. Additionally, some learning providers provide short courses online, such as these courses in Tongan from Udemy. So what are you waiting for? Why not make 2020 the year you invest in learning a language?





The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


As Bob Tyne mentioned - our School of Languages is tri service however it is predominantly Army that offers the additional opportunities to improve with in-country learning. We need to look at making this equal amongst the services and APS to realize the benefits to defence.

Language training is an essential trade skill. Apart from security issues relating to reliance on non-ADF translators, being able to converse with locals in their language will significantly enhance the Force image. Does everyone need to be “contract fluent”? Intensive language training is for those with the need, ability, and resilience to absorb advanced-pace learning. Ideally, compressed introductory / basic language training should be part of all deployment training.

I completed my French GL course in 2010 and have had few opportunities to operate as a linguist since, not that this is unusual as there is no huge operational demand for French linguists in the ADF. While learning a language at DFSL is an admirable aspiration and rewarding experience, there is little point in encouraging new trainees to commit to courses without ensuring robust and reliable methods to maintain skills and conduct testing outside of refresher courses, which can - at times - be very difficult to get enrolled in. Fortunately the team at DFSL have formed a Skills Maintenance Package on the Defence learning site (ADELE) which cover off on critical skills in the form of exercises and past tests from previous refresher courses. A way to further improve ADF linguist skills maintenance is to recruit and qualify ADF members who already know a LOTE, particularly those who have it as a native tongue spoken among family. By far the best way to do this is to target the reserve forces, particularly those in Melbourne and Sydney due to the large ethnic populations that serve in the various units. Common languages that can be found among reserve forces are Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, and Spanish. Maintaining a linguist capability can be costly, time consuming and difficult to co-ordinate. The benefit of having, what are essentially pre-qualified linguists, is that there is less resources required to maintain a high linguist competence. Nowadays, the odd online course and perhaps a quick DFSL component will maintain the capability of the target language with little effort.

Hi Barry. Thank you for your interesting and forthright insight in response to this podcast. I am particularly interested in your comment “…without ensuring robust and reliable methods to maintain skills and conduct testing outside of refresher courses”. As a means of maintaining your LOTE skills beyond the ADELE package, have you tried using any of the language learning apps mentioned in this podcast? If so, do these apps work for you as a DFSL graduate? I ask because I strongly believe that any individual skill set is, first and foremost, an individual’s responsibility to maintain, regardless of how much or how little you get to use that skill set ‘at work’. As a technically qualified engineer in the Army I have experienced firsthand, and witnessed, the skill fade in the ability to conduct basic engineering calculations as my role over the years has not really relied on these skills, skills which I spent over four years studying. It sounds similar to your experience post DFSL. I very quickly learnt, however, that the only way I was going to maintain my engineering skills was to keep them up in my own time and to keep this learning as interesting and as varied as possible. I think the same would apply to maintaining a language skill so I am interested to hear if such apps are useful for someone who has finished an intensive language course and not just for those seeking to learn a new language from scratch.

Thank you very much for producing this informative podcast. Thanks also to the contributors who shared their language learning journey. I found the discussion on the ‘novel’ means of language learning particularly pertinent. With that in mind I would like to echo the words of Jemma, who taught herself Korean, and share how I have gone about language study in a similar way. In doing so I hope to reinforce one of the key points of this podcast: if you are interested in learning a language, start now, regardless of your prospects to attend DFSL or the like. You will be surprised in how accessible, efficient and easy it is. I never considered learning a LOTE until January this year while skiing in Japan. In Japan, English is not as prevalent to the extent that I assumed it would be. Therefore, I sought to learn a few phrases that would make it easier to order a coffee, order a meal, greet people, and express gratitude for the exceptional hospitality that is so characteristic of Japanese culture. After reading a number of reviews like the one referenced in this podcast, I downloaded and started using DuoLingo. Thanks to this app, I learnt those useful phrases very quickly. As pointed out by the contributors to this podcast, the ability to speak even a small amount of the native language goes a long way in terms of how one is received in a foreign culture. The locals genuinely appreciated the attempt to communicate with them in their own language. From the confidence of this initial achievement, I kept going – and I haven’t stopped. After returning from Japan, I was immediately deployed on OP BUSHFIRE ASSIST. During the spare time that I was able to find, generally being in the late evening, there wasn’t much else to do, so I kept up the study. I continued using DuoLingo, as well as another app called MemRise to help with Kanji more specifically. While I haven’t used it much at this stage, I also purchased a text book called “80/20 Japanese” which, as the name suggests, utilises the Pareto principle, to good effect. Over the course of that eight weeks, in the 5-30 minutes that I spent most evenings, I learnt to read and confidently pronounce both syllabaries of the Japanese language, about 100 words, a multitude of their contextual phrases, and the basics of Japanese grammar that formulate those phrases. I have since doubled that. The COVID-19 affected period has provided more free time than I think I otherwise would have in my current appointment. That free time has no doubt contributed to the ability and motivation to keep going, however, as mentioned by the speaker – if you are struggling to find time, spend less of it on social media. In addition to learning the actual language, there have been some other surprising benefits to this self-study. Firstly, I pay more attention to my English written communication. Learning a language, as they say, truly is brilliant ‘brain training’. Secondly, studying a language is a remarkable way to unwind. The ‘pleasant’ user interfaces of the apps help with that, so does the fact that you are immersed in something completely unconcerned with the day to day. Therefore, if you are looking for something to help you unwind from the demands of our profession, learning a language might just be what you are looking for. Finally, most reliable references will tell you that there are four aspects of effectively learning a language – (1) pronunciation, (2) listening, (3) vocabulary and (4) grammar. The use of an app or a text book alone won’t make you a master in all areas. Individual self-study, however, I believe is a very cost-effective way to attain 80% proficiency; the other 20% - effective listening and the nuances of pronunciation, for example - can be polished through other means, such as with a tutor, much later down the track.

皆さんこにちは. ADFは日本語話してのメ-ムバありますか? ADFはどうに日本語トレニングをしますか? Good day, I'm interested to concentrate/join a group of ADF Japanese language speakers on a Forcenet group if there are any in the ADF and find out how to best use our unique language abilities to the benefit of ADF.

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