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Defense Language Institute: Building a bridge with English

By Mary Nell Sanchez | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | March 28, 2019

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas - The Defense Language Institute English Language Center, or DLIELC, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland is focused on providing English training relating directly to military content for students from around the world.

DLIELC is preparing future fighters to work alongside each other with a common thread; a critical connection of understanding each defense-related term in a universal language.

The center, established in 1964, initially started as the U.S. Force Language School with a primary mission to teach English to Allied pilot candidates. The mission expanded in 1966 to include other career fields and the school moved under the 37th Training Wing.

Not only do students become proficient English language speakers, foreign nationals are also exposed to American customs and culture, according to DLIELC’s website, http://www.dlielc.edu.  

“Sometimes people may have a pre-conceived idea of Americans, but then they come here and interact with us,” said Veronica Marco, DLIELC administrative assistant.

About 3,000 students from more than 100 countries enroll in DLIELC resident training programs annually. The center instructs students annually with a 98 percent graduation rate. DLIELC instructors also travel to partner countries to host courses while its JBSA-Lackland campus sees a steady flow.

“When I come to work and sit at my desk, I get exposed to that,” Marco said. “I get to meet so many different people from so many different countries from all over the world right here.” 

So why is the demand for English instruction so strong?

“English is the language of international business, international travel, sea-faring nations and research and development,” said Col. Sean Raesemann, DLIELC commandant and 637th Training Group commander. “Chinese, Spanish and English are the most widely used languages and English trumps them all as the international language.”

Many countries are incorporating English into their educational curriculum and they’re even looking at alternatives such as language education software.

What separates DLIELC from education software and makes it more effective is that it focuses on vocabulary in a military content, Raesemann added.

Countries that utilize software may still have to send their student to follow-on training to learn how to fix a jet or maintain an aircraft system. He cautions that word meanings could get lost in translation. Being accurate is key.

There are differences in words like “battery” and “apron” when having a regular conversation versus using them in military context.

“The [word] ‘battery’ is a military formation and an ‘apron’ is somewhere you park jets,” Raesemann said.

Because DLIELC is geared towards military instruction, they’ll continue to adjust their approach so understanding, cooperation and success can be achieved.

Not only is a command of English important, it is vital that in times of war, Raesemann added. Students need to operate in a military environment with allies with perfectly matched language skills because every word counts.

DLI ensures there is “no mission failure,” he said.