Marine Corps special forces graduated five students from a brand-new program, unique among the services.
The 36-week Advanced Linguist Course, aimed at making Marines not only conversant in strategic languages, enables them to haggle, give security briefs and make use of dialect and idiom no matter where in the world their mission sends them.
The students were all graduates of the inaugural Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command seven-month individual training course, and had been selected while in the course to pursue training in a language indicated by operational needs.
Three of Friday’s graduates trained in French; two in Indonesian. Later this summer, a 52-week course in Dari, Pashtu and Urdu will mark its completion. The program is comprised of 17 languages in total.
The deputy commander of MarSOC, Col. Stephen Davis, said the five Marines represented the first contribution to an investment in the future of MarSOC, as well as to a more deliberate and dynamic way to interact with other cultures.
“They are force multipliers, which truly enable the forces to win the wars before they begin,” Davis said.
For the nine months of the program, students spend up to six hours a day immersed in their focus language, working on learning grammar and syntax through situational and conversational speech, rather than from grammar books.
A sergeant who graduated the French course Friday and asked not to be identified because of potential future operations, said the challenge was to diligently hone language skills after class in homework and practice.
“I found that if I could get home and immediately turn on some French news, that was extremely helpful,” he said. “It was something in French playing in the background, reading a French book.”
The language program manager for Marine Special Operations School and the one of the program developers, Tanya Woodcook, said a key was giving Marines what they would need linguistically in future missions: sub-Saharan French dialect and accents, and military vocabulary, including ranks and firearm components.
“They won’t be ordering croissants at a Parisian café,” Woodcook said.
The course was developed with four levels, from basic conversational ability without complications to nuanced fluency. The graduates of this course were all required to reach Level 2, signifying an ability to communicate with complications.
The Language Branch Director, Todd Amis, said idiom and regional expression were a large part of reaching this level.
“Not necessarily ‘can they communicate,’ but how well they can speak,” he said.
The graduating sergeant said he felt comfortable giving safety briefs and orders in French now, and that his confidence in the language was increased by a month-long trip the French course took to Senegal, where they were able to practice conversations with native speakers.
Knowing the language and not having to rely on a translator, he said, was an invaluable skill and operational asset.
“There’s less meaning lost in what you’re trying to convey and you’re building a human relationship with a person,” he said.
And though the first course has just completed, built from the ground up, the program may expand rapidly: Woodcook said it has been approved to open to other components of U.S. Special Operations Command.