A former employee of a contractor providing military translation and interpreting services to the US army in Afghanistan has turned whistleblower with the claim that the fortified forces are being diddled by workers who are not right fluid in the Afghan languages they claim to specialise in, and who are employing ramp-ins to crack telephone examinations.

However, the contractor firmly denies these claims, which it says are being made to influence the outcome of an ongoing Court case. Even if the allegations were true, it is unlikely that MEP, the contractor, is the sole source of the languages fiasco. The US army has been described as lacking in the provision of adequate language training for military personnel in languages critical to its campaigns by a number of American watchdogs recently.

It has been suggested that top American brass does not see language training as ‘mission critical’ to its personnel, and certainly the various languages (Dari, Farsi, and notably Pashto) spoken by the Taliban and in the south of Afghanistan are not easy for Americans to learn. This is partly because they are spoken in a wide variety of dialects and often by people whose accents are a far cry from the model speech of a classroom environment.

If you are operating in any foreign culture, and particularly as the armed forces are in Afghanistan, where the war has been described as an attempt to conquer  ‘hearts and minds’ as well as a common enemy, proper language training is essential. The problems with hiring translators and interpreters directly from the field of operations are not just confined to issues with being able to assess their competency properly.

There must also be questions of loyalty and security to consider. Previously and properly trained linguists who are prepared for the rigours of the battlefield would surely be more beneficial to the US army? Clear communication is vital to the success of any interaction with another culture, and in a time of war, where simple misapprehend can conducted to complicated and dangerous situations, might not many lives also be saved by a few words in the right place?

Melandra Smith was home-educated by her genealogist father David Bethell M A Cantab and mother Irene Bethell, a graphic designer. She deliberate Japanese and Latin in addition to curriculum subjects and at the age of 17, following excellent exam results in their Proficiency Test at SOAS in London, she was sent on a scholarship tour of Japan by the Japan Foundation, representing the UK. Melandra then studied for her Advanced Diploma with the Chartered Institute of Marketing and has since has worked for a number of different organisations in Cheshire and the Peak District, in both marketing and project management roles. She united Technical Translations http://www.technical-translations.co.uk in September 2009 and now works as a project manager and in customer support.

Melandra is a keen musician and artist and lives in the beautiful Derbyshire Dales with her husband Paul and baby daughter Indigo.

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