By AFCLC Outreach Team
/ Published May 07, 2020
SSgt Lamin Sawo can log into his Wolof eMentor course from the comfort of his home on base at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Photo compliments of SSgt Sawo.
In March 2020, Gen Stephen Townsend, Commander, U.S. Africa Command, commented that “a secure and stable Africa remains an enduring American interest…I believe in Africa building partner capacity and counterterrorism efforts or counter VEO (Violent Extremist Organization) efforts are a way we do global or great power competition in Africa because that is what our partners are hungry for.”
To build partner capacity in Africa, the Air Force Culture and Language Center (AFCLC) sends Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP) scholars to Africa. These LEAP scholars who participate in Language Intensive Training Events (LITEs) are increasing their proficiency in African languages and developing an increased cultural understanding of these diverse African nations.
Additionally, the Center has utilized advanced LEAP scholars to provide language support by interpreting and facilitating discussions with African partner nations in events such as Flintlock, African Air Chiefs Symposium, Counter-Improvised Explosive Devise training, African Partnership Flight, Africa Endeavor, among other programs through the Training Partnership Request program.*
AFCLC has a two-pronged approach to language learning: LITEs and online courses called eMentor. eMentor provides students intense, live synchronous language instruction with a native-level language instructor. eMentor courses are based on the 12 domains of culture, grounded in current, relevant topics, which help Airmen prepare regionally and culturally for future assignments.
Responding to emerging language requirements, AFCLC added two new languages to its battery of eMentor courses: Wolof and Twi. By adding Wolof and Twi to its curricula, the Center continues to develop its educational capabilities in African languages aligned with U.S. strategic objectives, such as the Africa Enlisted Development Strategy focusing on building up enlisted professional military education in African countries. These African countries can then become regional centers of excellence that train and develop their enlisted corps as well as those of other African nations.
Wolof is a language of the Republic of Senegal, the Republic of The Gambia, and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, in west and northwest Africa. More than 10 million people speak Wolof, and about 40 percent, or about 5 million, of Senegal’s population speak it as their native language. Today, an additional 40 percent of the population speak Wolof as a second or acquired language, making it the lingua franca of a critical partner, or a language adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different.
Twi has a similar status in another critical partner nation, Ghana. With more than 9 million native speakers, Twi is a language of the Akan people spoken in southern and central Ghana and the Ivory Coast. There are about 17–18 million Twi speakers in total, and at least 29 percent of the Ghanaian population speaks Twi as a first or second language, with estimates that as much as 85 percent of the Ghanaian population uses it.
“Overall, I liked the class,” said SSgt Lamin Sawo, stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. “It acted more like a refresher, and I was able to recall a lot of information to include certain words and phrases. I am a Wolof speaker, but since I traveled to the U.S. in 2007, I do not speak Wolof as often as I would have if I were in The Gambia. Furthermore, I do not live in a major city with a large Gambia population like in New York, Atlanta, or Seattle to help me speak Wolof more often. I was slowly losing my Wolof language knowledge and skill.”
SSgt Sawo said that while Mandingo/Malinke is his first language, he still learned Wolof because it was the primary language of his home. However, being unable to speak the language regularly took its toll.
eMentor is unique in that participants connect face-to-face for the online language course, which also solved a long-standing need for efficient and cost-effective educational course delivery options. AFCLC created eMentor courses for participants to enjoy live, online, instructor-facilitated language training in a distance-learning environment for thousands of participants at various locations with diverse schedules.
“The course itself was great, and we had fun...the conversations were... interesting. I will do it again! I like the interactions and discussions on different topics [with the instructor]. We discussed a whole host of issues, and since we were all born and raised in Ghana, we could compare information and discuss matters from different perspectives. I learned new words in the Twi/Akan language and was reminded of some Akan words I would otherwise replace with an English word. Not a bad experience at all. Glad I took the course and would sign up for another one,” said SMSgt Joshua Kena, stationed at United States Air Forces in Europe, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. After completion of AFCLC provided language training, Airmen like SMSgt Kana and SSgt Sawo are better postured for utilization and to support the application of airpower through strengthening partnerships and interoperability.
USAF Active Duty members who speak Wolof, Twi/Akan, Krio, Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Songhay/Zarma, Somali, Amharic, Swahili, Tamasheq, Berber/Tamazight, Hassaniya, Bambara, Jula, Moore, and Afar are encouraged to apply for LEAP in the Active Duty application window that opened 1 May 2020Current LEAP scholars are encouraged to take an OPI and/or DLPT and cross-train into an African language. LEAP scholars who cross-train can keep their first LEAP language but would then have two LEAP Control Languages. Additional information about the LEAP Active Duty Application can be found here: https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/AFCLC/Language-Studies/Application-Info/
For more information about LEAP, please visit https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/AFCLC/Language-studies/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Organizations wishing to submit a Training Partnership Request can do so via this link: https://leader.sso.cce.af.mil/Leap/TrainingPartnership
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