Why culture knowledge matters for national security

The U.S. military has found that linguists are helpful in both routine and high-stakes events

Why culture knowledge matters for national security

A linguist (right) assigned to headquarters and headquarters company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, interprets Arabic to English to Maj. James J. Gotlewski, B company commander, 416th Civil Affairs Group, during an engagement exercise April 11, 2006, at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. (US Army photo by Spc. Joshua R. Ford)

By Dr. Anna H. Lint, Trident University International, and Professor James R. Lint, American Military University

Throughout our history, many people in America have learned English as a second language. French, German, and Spanish immigrants were followed by Italians and other Europeans. Later came an influx of Asians.

Most immigrants have integrated and learned English for their own needs, but these non-native English speakers have also benefited national security.

The U.S. military has used linguists to help with their knowledge of both languages and cultures. This can be helpful in routine situations like coordinating port visits of American flagged ships. It can also be helpful in higher stakes events, like trying to bring about a cease-fire between two combating forces.

Roots in Korean War

Personnel who serve as mediators need to know more than the language — they need to be culturally attuned to prevent inadvertent embarrassments by offending one of the parties.

The military has used different programs for helping overcome language divides. One of the most well known is in Korea, where the language is difficult to learn. The Korean Augmentees to the U.S. Army (KATUSA) program was started during the Korean War with native laborers who carried ammunition and helped rebuild areas under U.S. guidance. This program has since generated some of the best English linguists in Korea, including college students who compete to participate.

There are many requirements for the knowledge of non-English languages and cultural understanding in the intelligence world. People who learned English as a second language often have a better understanding of culture and cultural differences that can impact human relations.

Resources for learning a language

While non-native English speakers may have a natural edge, the right training can prepare anyone to work effectively across languages and cultures. The U.S. Army, National Security Agency, and State Department all have good schools for linguistics that integrate culture into the classes. Some examples are the Defense Language Institute, the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Institute, the National Security Agency STARTALK Language Program, and the U.S. Army Language Program.

Non-government personnel can get language training in the U.S. and in other countries. One leading worldwide language training company is Berlitz. Germany offers the inexpensive Volkshochschule program, while South Korea’s famous Yonsei University teaches Korean language and culture.

Many colleges and community colleges also have language training programs and electives or programs that focus on a foreign language and culture. An inexpensive method for learning may be to volunteer as an ESL instructor at a local school. Business travel, church trips, or a tour with the Peace Corps can also provide opportunities to learn language and culture.

No doubt, any opportunity to learn about additional languages and cultures will benefit any career in national security and beyond. We live in a global world, and many careers in the future will likely require the ability to work effectively beyond U.S. borders.

About the Authors

James R. Lint is an Adjunct Professor at American Military University. He served in the United States military for over 20 years, in both the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army. Lint served as Deputy Director for Safeguards & Security, Office of Science, at the Department of Energy. And prior to that, he served at the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis, where he was initially the lead cyber intelligence analyst and later the Chief of the Collection Analysis Team. He recently authored the book, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned, A Book of Management Vignettes.”

Dr. Anna H. Lint received her Doctoral degree in Educational Leadership with a concentration in E-learning from Trident University International. Dr. Lint obtained an MA degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Oklahoma City University. Dr. Lint has spent more than 30 years in entrepreneurial business and education both in the U.S. and internationally. She has been teaching in the field of education since 2011. She currently teaches both Masters and Ph.D. education programs. Additionally, she is a chair for dissertation committees. Dr. Lint published two studies regarding student persistence in online higher education in 2013. Dr. Lint is currently an adjunct faculty at Trident University International.