Meet Your Military: Soldier Translates During U.S.-Japan Exercise
YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. – The ability to speak more than one language is a difficult skill to master, and learning a new language in adulthood is not something many people accomplish. Williams, a linguist in the Washington National Guard, worked as an interpreter for U.S. and Japanese forces during the operation, which began Sept. 2 and runs to Sept. 24. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Deja Borden Army Spc. Joshua Williams, a Washington National Guardsman with Company A, 341st Military Intelligence Battalion, learned two languages at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center at the Presidio of Monterey in California. In 2005, Williams decided to join the Army National Guard and become a linguist. Coming from a family of service members and always having an interest in other languages, he said, it seemed only natural to choose that career path. Before enlisting into the National Guard, Williams said, he studied several languages, including French, Spanish and German. He was introduced to the idea of becoming a linguist in the military by one his high school teachers, he added. When he first attended DLI, he learned Mandarin Chinese. Though completing the training was no easy task, Williams said, he used his love of languages to finish successfully. “It’s very fast-paced and very demanding,” he said. “I really enjoyed the language itself. Getting acclimated to the pace, it’s certainly no cakewalk.”
Two-month immersion tour After graduating from DLI, he traveled to China for a two-month immersion tour with fellow students studying Chinese, where he was able to put his new skills to the test. “I found the language skills to be invaluable there,” he said. “I did a lot of the translation.” Williams said he was one of the few individuals on the tour able to conduct full-length conversations. “I find language learning personally enriching,” he said. “I think it’s a great way to make sure that I’m developing and growing my mind. It’s not fun all the time, but it’s something that, for me, is measurable. I can say I’m not just letting myself waste away.” Williams works as the command language program manager for his battalion. When he’s not conducting missions, he maintains linguist records, sets up testing for the Defense Language Proficiency Test and assists in hosting language immersion courses. When he is not working as a linguist for the Army, he spends his spare time tending to his grandmother’s 10 acres of land and playing video games on his computer.
Building confidence Learning these new languages was a way to break out of his shell and feel more confident, Williams said. “In English, I’m not very talkative,” he added. “As soon as we start getting into Chinese or Japanese, I become much more talkative.” Williams attended DLI a second time this year to learn Japanese, and soon after completing the course, he was able to use his new skills for Operation Rising Thunder 2014, an annual training exercise conducted here with U.S. and Japanese forces, working for the 7th Infantry Division and the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force as an interpreter. “When it comes to giving pointers and constructive criticism between each of our forces we’ve got to tread water lightly,” said Army Spc. Kyle Clark, an infantryman with 7th ID. “We don’t want to offend each other.”
Overcoming cultural differences Overcoming cultural differences was difficult for both groups, Clark said, and Williams has played a major role in the training exercise. “One of the things I really like about having these language skills is when there’s a need for communication, I can come in and bridge that gap, and I think that’s worthwhile,” Williams said. Being located in the Pacific region makes knowing Japanese all the more important, Williams said, adding that he believes it’s necessary to communicate and build positive relationships with the Asian nations throughout the Pacific. Military training in languages provides an advantage over other methods of learning, Williams said. “The amount of one-on-one time and exposure in a high school or college course really doesn’t compare,” he explained. “You have to really want to be fluent and have an idea of what attaining fluency is like to be able to get there at a college level.” Williams said he can’t imagine himself doing anything else, and that when his military career ends, he hopes he can find a profession that uses his language abilities.
Written Sept. 19, 2014 By: Army Sgt. Deja Borden 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Republished and redistributed by permission of DoD. ***SOT***