Overcoming language barriers

December 15, 2010

Specialist Charles Nasternak, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 137th Infantry, wrote from Arta, Djibouti:


When I first learned that I would be mentoring with our partner nation for a combat life saving course I was a bit nervous due to the fact I had never taught  this class and I would be working with a large group who did not speak English. I quickly learned that a language barrier is only as much of a hindrance as you make it. The barrier was easily overcome with training aids and hand gestures.  

As we entered the classroom, I noticed the beautiful scenery right out the back door. The facility where we conducted the class was located on a gorgeous mountain side, there were rolling hills that led to the beach and the weather was much cooler than back on Camp Lemonnier.

On the first day, about an hour into class, I could not help but notice the ruckus going on outside. There were dogs barking and some soldiers quickly moving about, and that’s when I saw the baboons. This was nothing new to them, but I had never dreamt I would see baboons invading a camp.

By the second day we had already started to get past the language barrier. I found a soldier in my group who spoke some English. This soldier helped me communicate with the rest of my small group. He also taught me some Somali, and I also worked with him on his English. By day five, our graduation day, I had made new friends and a couple of them had even invited me to their homes to meet their family. I felt very honored that someone would ask me to come to meet their family, especially given how important family is to the Muslim faith.

I am very satisfied with how well everyone got along and accomplished the mission. This was a better experience then I thought it was going to be and it let me to see why the work we are doing with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa is so important.  This was a good developmental encounter for me to learn new mentoring techniques that will further my knowledge in my career field. I look forward for my next mission and also to helping our partner nations build their medical skills.


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