By Lori M. Quiller, AFCLC Outreach Team
/ Published April 22, 2020
Capt Jennie Seibert and a fellow LEAP scholar at the Arch of Hadrian in Jordan. Photo compliments of Capt Seibert.
The Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP) is one of the cornerstones of the Air Force Culture and Language Center (AFCLC). More than a decade after implementing the concept of deliberately developing language-enabled, cross-cultural Airmen across the General Purpose Force, AFCLC continues to navigate outside the box for challenging educational opportunities and training situations for today’s Airman.
“Understanding different cultures and languages is important because it gives one greater insight into the values of others. Knowledge of the values of our partners and collaborators is important and can be used to further their interests in alignment with our own,” explained LEAP scholar Maj Ruby Tamariz.
Fellow LEAP scholar Capt Jennie Seibert agreed that language and culture skills in today’s military are not only essential but extremely necessary.
“Language and culture skills are important for today’s Air Force because of the nature of the dynamic global environment and our multifaceted interactions with partner nations,” Seibert said. “Knowing culture is crucial because it helps foster a sensitivity to cultural differences that is important for building relationships. Understanding language and culture walk hand-in-hand, so it can be challenging to master one without the other. Ultimately both are required for strengthening effective and rewarding relationships with partner nations.”
Application to LEAP is highly competitive. Applicants must have some proficiency in a foreign language specified on the Air Force Strategic Language List, as measured by the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) and/or Oral Proficiency Interview scores. Once accepted into the program, LEAP provides education and training required to reach and sustain desired proficiency levels with very little time away from their units at a lower cost during an acceptable time.
By employing a mix of traditional classroom-based education models with nontraditional learning styles, AFCLC discovered the perfect balance of learning environments with eMentor training and Language Intensive Training Events (LITEs).
eMentor is an online language program that connects Airmen anywhere in the world with native language instructors at times convenient for each Airman’s schedule. It is an easy solution to a long-standing need for efficient and effective online language course delivery by meeting up with the students wherever they are — at home or deployed — and the program works with participant schedules for live, instructor-led courses.
eMentor lesson content is infused with topics culturally relevant to regions where Airmen may be deployed and expected to operate seamlessly with air forces and populations around the world. eMentor courses assess, enhance, and sustain Airmen’s language skills during their careers.
Unlike eMentor, which is completely virtual training, a LITE immerses LEAP scholars in culturally sophisticated settings. These opportunities average 30 days and place the Airman in a traditional school or university study program, or advanced setting such as an international training event or workshop. A LITE affords participants linguistically, regionally, and culturally sophisticated settings in which participation is necessary for the development of language proficiency and cross-cultural competence.
“It is always evident to me, as I spend time engaging with locals on my LITEs, that it matters a great deal to the individual when you make attempts to communicate in their language, as opposed to expecting that they know English. Even if I found myself fumbling over my words or making grammatical mistakes, I could sense my effort to engage with them in their mother tongue was appreciated. LITEs allow plenty of opportunities to go out and explore the culture in which you’re immersed through shopping and dining at local shops or visiting historical and cultural sites,” Seibert said.
For Seibert and Tamariz, utilizing the eMentor one-on-one tutoring with the LITE program created a personalized learning environment, which made them comfortable in the culture and language of their studies.
“The eMentor program has been invaluable in maintaining my Spanish skills. At the start of each course, I’m always a little overwhelmed with how everything is communicated in the foreign language — from the instruction, to the assignments, and to one’s collaboration with other students. But the total immersion is exactly what I need in a profession where I have few opportunities to practice my skills. My mind is much more alert and adaptive to the learning environment. By the end of each course, I’m always satisfied with how I’ve overcome the initial challenges. Over time, the eMentor program has helped me improve and maintain my DLPT scores,” Tamariz said.
Being comfortable in AFCLC’s education process not only made learning more manageable, but it also made the results more prolific.
“My experience with the eMentor program has been an incredibly enriching part of my Air Force career,” Seibert said. “My instructors have been extremely dedicated and motivated to their task of helping me improve my language skills in all four of the modalities by working through lesson plans with clear objectives and a manageable amount of new content to master each week. The best part of my eMentor experience is that I’ve been able to cater to my class schedule with my unpredictable work schedule, which allows me to focus solely on learning the language and culture without scheduling issues or distractions. One of my instructors was originally from Iraq, so I often benefited from being able to discuss a unique perspective on U.S. involvement in the region, while learning the language at the same time.”
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