By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Oct. 21, 2011) -- Soldiers can now earn up to 16 promotion points for completing language instruction with the Headstart2 language training program.
The Headstart2 software uses digitally animated characters involved in military scenarios to teach reading, writing, speaking and listening skills in any of 16 target languages. Soldiers must register for an Army Training Requirements and Resources System account, known as ATTRS, to earn points in any of those target languages.
"It gives ... a Soldier, a Marine, an Airman, a Sailor or a civilian -- that doesn't have background in the language, a fairly decent understanding of the culture, a basic understanding of the sound and script, and what we would describe as survival-level language," said Col. Danial Pick, commandant of the Defense Language Institute.
The HeadStart2 program was developed at the Defense Language Institute.
Pick said the program teaches a "military-focused vocabulary," designed with requirements from both the Army and the Marine Corps, to help Soldiers and Marines complete the types of missions they will be engaged in during deployments.
He said specifically there is a focus on conducting patrols, cordon and search, medical treatment, as well as "interrogatives and vocabulary that allow squads of Soldiers and Marines to ask critical survival-type questions in local populations, as well as have an understanding of culture."
Being able to engage effectively with local populations, Pick said, enables Soldiers and Marines to "identify and isolate enemy elements in a population and more effectively deliver aid and development to friendly forces in the countryside and the cities."
For an average user, the language program takes between 80 and 100 hours of self-directed study. The language programs can be accessed online through the DLI website or through service-specific portals, like Army Knowledge Online. The software can either be downloaded and installed on a computer or used online. Soldiers in a remote location, without access to a high-speed network, can also order the disks directly from DLI.
The Headstart2 program, first introduced in 2006 with Iraqi Arabic, is available now in 16 languages. Iraqi Arabic, Pashto, and Dari are available through the Army Learning Management System. Urdu, Persian Farsi, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese European, Russian, French, German, Spanish, Uzbek, Kurmanji, Swahili and Portuguese Brazilian are available through the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, though those are in the process of being moved to ALMS.
An additional 11 languages are under development for HeadStart2, Pick said.
Soldiers who complete the Headstart2 program in any language can get up to 16 promotion points in ATRRS. For those languages hosted on ALMS, those points are automatically posted to ATRRS. For those languages hosted on DLIFLC, Soldiers will need to print out the certificate of training to apply for the credit.
"When a Soldier completes Headstart2, he or she gets credit in ATRRS, which not only tells the unit commander at a glance who has or has not completed pre-deployment language and culture training, but it also gives that young Soldier credit in terms of promotion points."
The most popular of the language training programs are Dari, Iraqi Arabic and Pashto. Between June 2010 and June 2011, for instance, some 33,000 individuals used the Dari language program to train for deployment to Afghanistan. But Pick said others may use the program for non-deployment purposes. His own son, he said, used the program to augment his high school Spanish language training.
The Defense Language Institute developed the Headstart2 program completely in-house, Pick said. There's also another program available online through DLI called the Global Language Online Support System, or GLOSS, that includes training modules to help users achieve "level three" ability in a target language. And within the next year, Pick said, DLI will release a follow-on training program for Headstart2, called "Gateway." The first target language for Gateway will be Swahili.
While HeadStart2 provides Soldiers with a good starting point for language training, the Army has a much more robust option available to prepare Soldiers for deployment: the General Purpose Force Language Training Detachment.
The first of those detachments stood up at Fort Carson, Colo., in 2010, and was the result of a partnership between the operational Army and the Defense Language Institute. There are now seven detachments, as well as mobile training detachments that bring the training to Soldiers.
Right now, only Dari and Pashtu are being taught in language training detachments, and the training time for those languages is 16 weeks. The goal for training in the detachments is to bring students to a "0+" spoken proficiency in either of those languages, depending upon a deploying unit's area of operations and forecasted mission, said Maj. Gregory R. Mitchell, with the Army's Language and Culture Office, G-3/5/7.
"Face-to-face, instructor-based training is the only proven methodology for training spoken proficiency to any level on the Interagency Language Roundtable Scale," he said. "This fact alone is the reason why the Language Training Detachment is the Army's method of choice for training the one language-enabled Soldier per deploying platoon."
Mitchell said other languages could be taught in the GPF LTD, and depending on the difficulty of the language, the time for training to reach a 0+ could differ. French or Portuguese, for instance, could be taught to that level in a third of the time, he said.
"The LTD concept is very flexible and can be tailored, resources permitting, contract teachers in most languages can be hired within weeks to adapt to arising contingency missions," Mitchell said.
For Soldiers able to successfully complete language training at a GPF LTD, 48 points are available toward promotion. The Army is also awarding 10 promotion points to Soldiers who achieve an elementary proficiency rating on the Defense Language Proficiency Test.