For more to help prepare for cross-cultural engagement, watch the Cove+ Compact unit 'Culture to Cultures'.

Australia has significant experience in training soldiers from other nations, particularly with the Afghanistan National Army (ANA). Lessons from these experiences have been captured by Army Lessons in the Army Knowledge Centre, with many of them published in past Smart Soldier articles. From those articles, we have extracted tips that we believe may prove useful with ADF personnel deployed to the UK to support British-led Op INTERFLEX, a major training operation with the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Challenges of instructing indigenous forces. When instructing indigenous forces, patience is the key. ADF members entrusted with training need to understand the cultural differences, the varying educational standards and the differences in tribal upbringing so as to fully appreciate the task at hand. Winning the trust of the local forces is the first step to success; this is closely followed by having the flexibility and depth of knowledge to modify current Australian instructional practices to achieve the aim. This may necessitate the instructor/mentor going back to first principles of instruction and motivation, and identifying that some things simply won’t change and will need to be worked through or around to achieve the desired aim. Generally, indigenous forces are resourceful, capable within limitations, and eager to please.

Planning to train indigenous forces. Force elements performing instruction roles within indigenous allied forces need to identify deficiencies that must be reinforced or at least understood in order to inform planning. Previous experiences have repeatedly identified that this is important for planning during both training and operations. It is also very important in some countries to identify periods of religious significance (i.e. Ramadan and other religious holidays when food and water may not be consumed during certain periods of the day). This will have implications on the indigenous unit’s effectiveness and endurance. Planners should also consider that prayer times need to be incorporated into programming.

Some mentored soldiers may not see the need for certain training until the unit has experienced combat that demonstrates the need and implications of not having that knowledge. For example, an ANA medic thought combat and engineering training more important until the unit had the misfortune to suffer multiple casualties in a vehicle IED strike.
– Mentoring Task Force (MTF) 4

Training of the ANA needs to be structured and recorded so that mentors know the status of the training, levels attained and whether this training has been undertaken in the past. On one occasion, the ANA did not tell a mentor that they had undertaken this training in the past until after a lesson had been completed.
– 3 RAR TG

Be humble, honest and realistic in what can be achieved. It is important that you understand what the other nation wants to achieve in training and what you can achieve. Realism and mutual understanding serve a far better purpose than trying to over-deliver. With realistic goals and an understanding of what can be done, you can work with them to achieve their objectives.

In order to do so, you must remain humble. The principle of never judging someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes remains ever-applicable. Believing you are better than those you are working with is detrimental. Furthermore, you will not be able to achieve the rapport required for success if both you and the trainees do not have the same realistic objectives.

Building enduring relationships. Sustaining the relationship you build with the other nation’s personnel is imperative to ensuring continued success for those who replace you, as well as having continued strategic influence. The following considerations will assist in establishing a healthy relationship that will last, despite the rotation of personnel:

  • Understanding. Attempt to understand the specific context of those you are working with. Not just their culture, which will obviously be different, but the more specific details. Are they ‘Jungle Fighters’? Did they participate in a recent operation? Do they work alongside the police for domestic security inside the nation’s capital?
  • Respect. Take the time to understand the host nation’s history, capability, and the soldiers’ shared purpose in serving their nation and people. Remember, it is very likely we are all working together against a common enemy, and towards a common goal of regional security. They are professionals in their world and deserve a degree of respect for that.
  • Trust. By continually working to understand one another, trust will grow. It can be hard, which is why it requires work, but it starts by believing your counterpart is earnest and competent within their cultural context.

Modification of instruction techniques. Instruction techniques need to be modified for instructing the ANA. MTF personnel have found that using the same techniques when instructing Australian soldiers is culturally inappropriate. Examples provided include choice of language and aids, questioning approaches, and cultural sensitivities.

Australian soldiers needed to remain flexible and patient when training the ANA soldiers, due to the cross cultural barriers. However, it was very rewarding when you could see success with the ANA soldiers.
– MTF1

When ANA soldiers are not performing to standard, it is typically easier to discipline them through the ANA chain of command. This is because the ANA soldiers react differently to discipline by an Australian in that they can react with anger or just not listen.
– MTF2

It is necessary to emphasise the safety concerns and considerations for all training given to ANA soldiers. An Australian soldier felt that the ANA soldiers were practical people, but not particularly safety conscious.
– MTF2

ANA soldiers grasp visual and hands-on lessons very well. When teaching navigation and route planning you can point to a location on a satellite photo map and they can get there with no aids. Point to the same location on a normal map and they may struggle with the spatial recognition.
– MTF2

Significant success was obtained when the team identified one or two well-motivated and capable individuals and concentrated their efforts on them. A small team may, for example, train one or two individuals on a new technique or weapon, then have those individuals each train two of their companions. Once these were ‘at standard’, these new personnel were then each tasked to train two more. Concentrating effort on the best personnel usually meant that the desired effect would filter through to the remainder in time.
– MTF3

Determine if the ANA have a process already in place before teaching them the Australian way. For example, Australian soldiers were conscious of this when having to teach them a planning process. Not researching this could have resulted in a number of different planning processes being taught by other national army mentors.
– MTF3

  • Consider conducting combined language lessons in patrol-specific terminology. Have a suitably fluent ANA member teach the Australians “combat Dari”, and vice versa. These lessons make the ANA feel that the mentoring relationship works both ways, and will greatly enhance interoperability in contact. 
  • Run separate training for the ANA officers and sergeants. This will allow them to make mistakes without losing face  in front of their men, and encourage them to subsequently train their own soldiers in their newly acquired skills.

Considerations in the use of interpreters

Interpreters may need to take notes while you speak. They will refer to these to assist their memory as they relay your message into the target language. Until you’re confident in their skill levels, you should regard it as normal for them to take notes. At the very least, these notes will allow you to subsequently verify that the interpreter really understood your intended meaning and that the message was accurately conveyed.


  • Preparation is key. If possible, take time out with your interpreter before your next training session and outline the objectives. If possible, provide interpreters with your talking points in advance. It allows them to become familiar with the subject matter and understand what is going on/being discussed during the training.
  • Review any specialised acronyms, terminology and abbreviations early, so that your interpreter not only knows their meaning in English, but can also think about how to render them accurately into the target language.
  • Ask the interpreter for advice about the cultural expectations associated with the upcoming training.
  • Believe it or not, we Australians have an accent! Take some time to chat with your interpreters before meetings so that they become familiar with your accent and are able to fine-tune their ear to it.

During training

  • Interpreters should be allowed to position themselves where they can see (and have eye contact with) all speakers. However, if they are working for you, there is nothing odd about them being positioned near you.
  • Speak directly to the other party, not indirectly via the interpreter. Encourage the other speaker to do the same, and also the interpreter.
  • Speak naturally and slowly, clearly pronounce your words, and discipline yourself to use good grammar. Avoid feeling the need to fill quiet space with your voice. Your interpreter will need you to remain disciplined in your dialogue. Avoid going off onto tangents, rambling, or thinking aloud.
  • If you don’t want something interpreted, don’t say it.
  • To have a better chance that your words will be accurately conveyed, keep what you say short – consistent with getting an entire idea across in one utterance.
  • If you produce a very long utterance, the interpreter may need to signal you to pause (e.g. by holding up a hand). Provided this is not happening after only a few words, respect interpreters’ assessment of how much they are able to handle at one time. An interpreter breaking in so as to control the flow is not unprofessional conduct.
  • You can help the interpreter by making it quite clear when you’ve finished, and by not trying to add extra thoughts once the interpreter has started interpreting.
  • Encourage your interpreter to check back with you or the other party if something is unclear (unknown word) or has been temporarily forgotten.
  • Encourage interpreters to revisit and correct an earlier part of the discussion if they now believe that they initially failed to render it accurately.
  • Sarcasm and jokes are often lost in translation. Avoid them.
  • If the matters you need to discuss contain a lot of dense, hard-to-remember information it can be a great help to interpreters to have some sort of visual reference.
  • Don’t expect that you’ll have the other party’s undivided attention indefinitely. Ensure you get your point across succinctly.
  • Your interpreters work for you, and should have a clear idea of what their role is. In particular, their role does not include participating in the discussions, filtering out information that they consider unimportant or irrelevant, or adding in ‘helpful’ but unsolicited information. Ensure they understand that this behaviour is not acceptable, even if done with the best of intentions.
  • Be aware that interpreters are not translating machines, and that even for skilled interpreters, what may seem like a simple idea in one language can be very difficult to put across in another language. If interpreters indicate to you that they’re having difficulty with a phrase, be patient with them.
  • Ensure you’re providing your interpreter with sufficient rest. The job of an interpreter is extremely stressful, both physically and mentally. Interpreters must make split-second decisions about words and concepts on the go. As a guide, 30-40 minutes is usually quite long enough to expect an interpreter to concentrate; after one hour, a rest is definitely called for.


  • Take some time as soon as possible after the training to discuss with your interpreter the other party’s reaction to what you said. Can your interpreter offer any insights that you may have overlooked because of your unfamiliarity with the culture? Can they suggest any ways to improve interactions in the future?

Region specific language training. Language training provided to personnel prior to deployment needs to be region specific. Generic language training, whilst suitable for providing some degree of communication capability, is not always appropriate for the nature of many of the operations being undertaken, particularly in Afghanistan.

Language training needs to be relevant; encourage soldiers to master it, as some interpreters have a low level of proficiency in English.
– MTF1

Language training needs to be focused on correct dialect for the region and should include general conversation. This enables mentoring team personnel to build rapport with the ANA through social chatting.
– MTF2

Three months of language training will provide a reasonable level of competence in the language. It will not make the soldier an expert, due to the different dialects that they will come across. This will mean that there is always a reliance on interpreters. The basic language course prior to deploying is also worthwhile as it gave the soldiers an opportunity to interact with locals on a very basic level.
– MTF3


Training soldiers from another nation can be a challenging task, particularly given language and cultural differences. However, embracing the task and doing the best you can will provide a rewarding experience as you set others up for success. Taking the time to read the tips and guidance in this article will help with that success.


Army Lessons has a collection of training tips to complement this article. Email if you would like this information to be sent to you.