ROTC students learn uncommon languages

By Clayton Norlen, Staff Writer

Every Tuesday and Thursday this semester, Tor Achekzai and Ben Finnell meet on the third floor of the Mines Building to speak and study Pashto8212;a language spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the spring, the U received a grant for $750,000 to promote certain languages and cultures to ROTC students. The grant is made available by the Institute for International Education to encourage cadets to enroll in languages such as Arabic, Persian, Chinese, Korean, Hindi, Russian, Pashto and Urdu.

These languages have been identified by the United States as important for business or military purposes, and the grant aims to prepare as many students as possible with skills and a cultural understanding of the areas where these languages are spoken, said Janet Thiess, director of the Asian Studies Program at the U.

Finnell, along with a small group of other ROTC students, has taken advantage of the grants since the first year it became available.

ROTC students received the first six-week course for free, as well as an immersion into their language of choice through a study abroad opportunity.

“Our goal is to have students not just take the initial courses, but to have students follow the language to proficiency,” Thiess said.

Achekzai, a Pashto language professor, taught three students who enrolled in an intensive course during the summer. It was a difficult summer, he said, but the ROTC students were dedicated to their studies. Near the end of the course, the class was able to hold some conversations in Pashto.

“The U.S. needs people who can interact directly with the public,” Achekzai said. “It’s beneficial for business, people, the state department and homeland security for people to know (what’s) going (on) in these areas.”

Achekzai said studying different languages is important for ROTC students because information gained from local translators might not always be accurate in every detail.

Students who succeed in language classes have a desire to learn about different cultures and plan to use the language they are studying in their professional lives, Achekzai said.

Finnell, a junior in Asian Studies, said he speaks five languages, and is taking Pashto at the intermediate level because he loves a challenge and is a proponent of cross-cultural communication. He said it is important to learn Pashto because through language you understand the culture in a way that can benefit people personally and strategically.

“I like to learn about other cultures, and to learn a culture you have to speak the language,” Finnell said. “Language is the culture.”

Finnell said he can speak better with people of differing opinions or beliefs. Learning the finer points of other cultures has allowed him to talk about controversial issues.

Finnell said he often struggles with some of the discussions he has with Achekzai in Pashto during class, yet the challenge is what makes the class intriguing.

“If I pay attention to the words I know and non-verbal cues, I can get what’s going on,” he said.

For more information about language classes for ROTC students, contact Janet Thiess at 801-585-6477.

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Kate Kelly

Tor Achekzai and Ben Finnell meet twice a week to study the language of Pashto that is often spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pashto along with other languages has been identified as important languages to learn by the United States military.