The Linguist

The Linguist 53,3

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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Page 13 of 35

14 The Linguist JUNE/JULY FEATURES A military interpreter* reports from Afghanistan on the challenges of working under fire B ritish involvement in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan typically focuses on combat operations. Recent exposure of the conflict within the British media, especially from celebrities such as Ross Kemp, has highlighted the extreme conditions faced by servicemen on the frontline. Linguists specially trained in local dialects and mannerisms have a lower profile but an equally important role. All military operations require interaction in some form with the indigenous population, be they local civilians or government officials. The military relies on locally employed civilians (LECs) for day-to-day tasks, but when sensitive information is being discussed, a military linguist is better placed to interpret language and atmospherics. Until recently, they were trained at the Defence School of Languages in Beaconsfield or Chicksands, where a serviceman or woman could volunteer to undertake 18 months of intense language training, followed by a six-month tour of duty. For some soldiers, the shock of returning to a school environment is difficult. Classes last from 9am to 5pm, with long lists of vocabulary to learn in the evenings. Additionally, external activities take place: a meal in an Afghan restaurant in London, for example, where the waiter complimented our Dari (the Afghan dialect of Farsi) and asked why we spoke it so well. He looked shocked when he was told, by accident, that we were interrogators (Baaz-dzou – which we are not!) instead of students (Daanesh-dzou). Due to the dynamic nature of our job, we are trained predominantly in military and task-specific vocabulary. Fluency and interaction skills are refined by spending a month in Tajikistan near the end of the course, which ends with all students sitting an exam from the University of Westminster. Deployment I deployed to Afghanistan on completion of my course in May 2010, and spent six months working in Helmand Province. I soon learnt that my job involved reacting to the current mission – whatever that may be. My first few weeks were in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, where I met a number of interesting people. One task was to travel to the large mosque in order to record a statement from the Mullah. The Mullah hadn't met anyone from the UK who could speak Dari and so became very animated, showing me his mosque and the plush gardens surrounding it. I managed to develop a taste for sweet green tea, of which there was plenty! I travelled to various locations and engaged with other ISAF partners, helping to map out tribal boundaries and offering cultural advice. On several occasions, I worked with the Danish in the Nar-e-Saraj region to the North of Gereshk, meeting local Afghans to explain how we were going to build new tarmac roads and bridges that they could travel along without fear of driving over IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Working with the Danes was a fantastic experience and I made new friends, who I have visited in Denmark. Thankfully, the vast majority of Danish soldiers speak very good English. Learning Dari in 18 months was hard enough without having to learn another language on top. On the frontline JOINING FORCES Preparing for an operation with the Afghan National Army in the early morning (above); and James shares an Afghan meal with British and Afghan troops (right)

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