Home' Defence Magazine : Issue 7 2009 Contents 18
By Jack Foster
rguably one of the most
fundamental lessons learnt from
experience in recent counter-
insurgency operations, but
equally valid in all missions,
is that success ultimately
lies in establishing close relationships
with the local population.
Language and cultural skills play a vital role
in fostering these relationships and in helping
Australia’s land forces understand the environment
in which they find themselves operating.
Chief of Army’s Visiting Fellow at the Lowy
Institute for International Policy, Lieutenant Colonel
(LTCOL) Nick Floyd, said that language and cultural
understanding were critical capabilities for Army
and Defence more widely.
“These skills improve the decisions our soldiers
need to make both on missions, and when involved
in engagement and cooperation with Australia’s
regional and global partners,” LTCOL Floyd said.
“The most obvious benefit is when going into
an operational theatre where the inhabitants and
other players, such as coalition partners, speak
“But you’ve also got to have a language
capability when we’re involved in humanitarian
assistance missions and international diplomacy.”
LTCOL Floyd said that language and cultural
skills, although critical, were less tangible than
other capabilities, with benefits harder to measure.
“You can conceptualise the idea of buying a
new weapon, because you can see the outcomes
then and there, but the returns from language and
cultural understanding are extremely intangible,”
LTCOL Floyd said.
To help further this capability within Army,
soldiers and officers are being actively encouraged
to take up the opportunity to requalify in their
languages skills through its recently re-introduced
Language Refresher courses.
“Army has recently successfully completed
another of its rolling sessions of two-week language
requalification courses, at the Defence Force School
of Languages (DFSL),” LTCOL Floyd said.
Army personnel who have previously qualified
in the key Languages Other Than English (LOTE)
of Indonesian, Arabic, Vietnamese, French Persian
Farsi/Dari and Thai were required to attend these
courses, after a period of two years or greater
since their last qualification.
Soldiers who retain their languages at the
intermediate level or higher are entitled to apply
for further, in-country training that immerses them
in the language and culture of particular regions or
“These opportunities are designed to both
develop and broaden a linguist’s skills, particularly in
a specialist area or key dialect,” LTCOL Floyd said.
“They are an exemplary model of Army’s
current educational approach for today’s complex
environments—that is, teaching its soldiers how
to think, not what to think.”
Other key languages such as Japanese,
Khmer, Korean, Malay, Russian Portuguese,
Mandarin and Filipino are also being refreshed as
part of the ongoing Refresher program.
LTCOL Floyd said that Army unit commanders must
ensure that any intermediate-level or higher linguists
posted to their units are able to retain their individual
language abilities by requalifying every two years.
“By implementing this scheme, Army should see
a return in capability that far outweighs the outlay
made for the two-week attendance, and ensures that
Army’s significant initial investment in training its
generalist linguists is returned,” LTCOL Floyd said.
LTCOL Floyd said that language on its own is
insufficient, and must be teamed with insight into
“You could define cultural understanding as
the capacity for active study and understanding
of human and cultural influences affecting all
decision-making and actions in the operating
environment,” LTCOL Floyd said.
“These influences are pretty diverse, and include
things like behavioural considerations and drivers;
power and influence sources; government, political and
social grouping structures; tribal or ethnic dispositions;
and spiritual, economic and geo-social factors.
“It’s key that this understanding, or
empathy, extends to the cultures of all groups or
individuals—not just adversaries but also non-
combatants and our coalition partners – that act in
or influence the operating environment.”
LTCOL Floyd said understanding has to go
beyond superficial awareness, and take into
account an individual’s motivational drivers,
societal norms, political/group allegiances and any
behavioural drivers that influence decision-making.
“Gaining this understanding helps commanders
and operators at all levels to achieve best-practise
decision superiority,” LTCOL Floyd said.
At present, the Australian Army currently
assembles knowledge and awareness of operational
surroundings in many ways, drawing on cultural
understanding obtained through formal and
immersion training, incidental individual and
collective experience, as well as personal motivation.
“We also draw on further in-country
knowledge while on deployment from locally
engaged staff such as interpreters, and through
operational experience,” LTCOL Floyd said.
“This learning is then ploughed back in as part
of our Mission Rehearsal Exercises.
“The continuing operational experience
Australian has had throughout the past 10 years
reinforces the importance of language and cultural
understanding as a multiplier of all aspects of
interventions, not just combat, but stabilisation,
Defence military engagement, diplomacy, and
humanitarian assistance missions.”
Links Archive Issue 6 2009 Issue 8 2009 Navigation Previous Page Next Page