Following extensive evaluations by the U.S. Armed Forces, a
novel PC-based videogame originally conceived at the
University of Southern California Information Sciences
Insitute is educating thousands of officers and enlisted
personnel how to communicate in Iraq safely, effectively,
and with cultural sensitivity.|
The Tactical Iraqi&trade Language & Culture Training System
teaches not only what to say in Iraqi Arabic, but just as
importantly how to say it and when to say it. Lessons focus
on skills relevant to common, everyday situations and tasks.
Cultural awareness covers Iraq's non-verbal gestures and
norms of politeness and etiquette that are most critical to
Trainees learn while having fun by playing immersive,
interactive, non-scripted, 3D videogames that simulate real-
life social interactions involving spoken dialogs and cultural
protocols. Trainees "win" the game by correctly speaking to
and behaving with computer-generated Iraqi animated
characters. If the Iraqis trust the trainee, they cooperate
and provide the answers needed to advance in the game.
Otherwise, they become uncooperative and prevent the
trainee from "winning". The game has no shooting; trainees
must communicate -- not shoot -- their way to "winning" the
The course is not a simple entertainment videogame nor a
"repeat after me" training program. It is a "serious game"
that combines several patent-pending, breakthrough
technologies, including computational models of language,
culture and learning that guide the behavior of the game's
autonomous, animated characters; and a contextual,
speaker-independent speech recognizer for non-native
Trainees start learning functional communications skills
within a few hours of play. From the very first lesson, they
listen to and speak in Arabic using a headset microphone,
getting immediate feedback and guidance. Many rate the
course better than instructor-led classes.
"I wish this was something we had three years ago," said
Cpl. Joshua W. Zeigler, a Marine at Camp Lejeune. "This is a
great tool. It doesn't matter what your aptitude level is,
you're going to learn some proficiency in the [Arabic]
Marine Corps' units using the Tactical Iraqi course
extensively include the 1st Marine Division at Camp
Pendleton (California), the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat
Center at 29 Palms (California), the U.S. Marine Corps
Expeditionary Warfare School at Quantico (Virginia), the II
Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune (North
Carolina), and several sites inside Iraq.
Many units of the Army are also integrating the Tactical Iraqi
course into their training programs, including the 3rd
Infantry Division at Ft. Stewart, Ft. Benning and Hunter Army
Air Field (Georgia), the 1st Infantry Division at Ft. Riley
(Kansas), the Command and General Staff College at Ft.
Leavenworth (Kansas), and several sites inside Iraq.
Lastly, the U.S. Special Operations Forces Command
(USSOCOM) recently started distributing the course to its
command language program managers (CLPMs), who are
responsible for language training within units of the U.S.
Army Special Forces. For instance, USSOCOM gave laptops
pre-installed with the Tactical Iraqi course and other
language training software to 40 CLPMs at a recent seminar
in Ft. Walton Beach (Florida). USSOCOM is also giving
hundreds of copies of the course to interested parties in
USSOCOM and other units.
The program started in 2003 as a research project at the
University of Southern California's Information Sciences
Institute under funding from the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA Program Manager Ralph
Chatham was inspired to start the program after listening to
one of the first soldiers who went into Afghanistan. The
captain told how he and his comrades reluctantly rode on
tiny ponies into a town, totally relying on their Northern
Alliance escorts. However, the escorts could only speak
Afghan and a little broken Russian or Arabic, and the U.S.
soldiers could only speak English and a little broken Russian
or Arabic. When the town's people came out on the streets
the soldiers had no clue of what they were thinking from
their gestures, their demeanor or their words.
Dr. Chatham explains, "I wanted to insure that no American
soldier or Marine would again have to ride blind into a
foreign culture. I challenged the research community to
create a training tool that would teach the brain behind
every trigger finger and behind every steering wheel a bit of
the gestures, culture and mission-oriented vocabulary of the
land they were in. I also told the researchers that they had
to do this with only two discontinuous weeks of contact time
with the students."
In 2004, USSOCOM agreed with DARPA to support transition
of the project into use by the U.S. Army Special Forces. In
2005, the project's main researchers at USC started the
company Tactical Language Training LLC to further develop
and commercialize the products.
"The feedback and support that we received from the Marine
Corps and USSOCOM were critical in helping us convert our
original research university prototype into the successful
product that is in use today," said Dr. W. Lewis Johnson, co-
founder and chief scientist of Tactical Language Training LLC,
and research professor at the University of Southern
California. "We knew that our innovative training approach
had the potential to transform how people learn foreign
languages and cultures. Thanks to the support by the Marine
Corps and USSOCOM, we are seeing this happen."
Marine Corps interest in the program has been particularly
strong. The Marine Corps Expeditionary Warfare School has
made it required training for all its students. Marines at all
levels are using the program at Camp Lejeune, including
junior enlisted as well as general officers and their staffs. To
meet the need, Tactical Language Training, LLC has
established a website where any member of the U.S. Military
can download the software. Non-military learners may also
download upon payment of a license fee.
USSOCOM and DARPA are currently funding the
development of training courses for Pashto and Sahel
French. The Marine Corps is funding development of new
game scenarios for Iraqi Arabic that will teach their units
how to conduct sensitive missions safely and effectively.
Meanwhile, Tactical Language Training LLC and its parent
company, Alelo Inc., are drafting courses in Gulf Arabic,
English as a second language, Spanish and Chinese, and
planning products for non-military applications in education,
healthcare, entertainment and advertising.
Alelo is the Hawaiian word for "language", which is at the
heart of the company's mission to transform how people
learn to communicate. Initial emphasis is on foreign
languages and culture, with plans to expand into broader
markets. Alelo's wholly owned subsidiary Tactical Language
Training LLC is dedicated to serving the company's U.S.