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Defense Language Institute question

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United States
Joined 5367 days ago

57 posts - 81 votes 
Speaks: English*, Pashto
Studies: Dari

 Message 1 of 21
01 April 2013 at 8:34pm | IP Logged 
I'm shipping off to basic next month and will start my AIT in Monterey at the DLI in
September. Not sure what language I'll get, but I got a 141 on the DLAB, so most likely
category 4 language (hoping for Russian or Chinese, but will probably end up with
Arabic.) Right now I'm at an advanced level in my Spanish, but not quite up to any kind
of fluency. I'm wondering if there's any way I can go about learning my new language at
the DLI (which will entail about 11 hours a day of work) without completely losing my
Spanish. Thanks.

Also, if anyone has any tips on how to survive DLI, please share. I've heard the drop
out rate is high, and they have very high expectations for people who get 130s and 140s
on the DLAB.

Edited by Silvance on 01 April 2013 at 8:35pm

2 persons have voted this message useful

United States
Joined 5405 days ago

2615 posts - 8806 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
Personal Language Map

 Message 2 of 21
01 April 2013 at 9:45pm | IP Logged 
The following blog post was written by a student at FSI, not DLI, but she has a lot of interesting stories to tell:

I have more homework than should be legal tonight, and I am also nursing a supremely bad attitude, so this will be a quick post. But people often ask me How is Chinese going? and so, here's the answer from today.

On one hand (the positive), I only cried once today.

This is in direct opposition to a normal day, within which I often cry multiple times.

Sometimes even in class.

Last week, I even cried all the way through a fifty-minute class.

Thus, only crying once today is a positive. (Trust me.)

The negatives? Well, those would be all three times today that I was told by various folks in the Chinese Department that I SUCK.

My speeches suck. My ability to recall enormous amounts of new vocabulary words (recently, on one day we literally had something like 140 new vocabulary words) and immediately use them sucks. My skills in listening suck.

And so on.

And she was one of the first students to pass the class! The FSI classes are designed to force students to ILR 3/3 (allegedly about C1) in a Romance language in about 24 weeks. As anybody here could tell you, that's going to involve a really terrifying amount of work.

Anyway, as for maintaining your Spanish, how are your listening and reading skills? Even a single episode of a children's cartoon every other day, or 20 minutes reading the newspaper, has been enough to keep my French from seriously degrading. My active skills go first, of course, but my passive skills just seem to require a short, regular workout. (My Egyptian has been frozen at a sub-A1 level for about 6 months now with only minor loss, thanks to maybe 5 minutes of Anki reviews per day.)

I'm sure some of the real polyglots here could offer you good advice on maintaining a language when your life is being utterly consumed by another project.
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Senior Member
United States users can see my Skype Name
Joined 6137 days ago

227 posts - 297 votes 
Speaks: English*, Portuguese, Japanese, Esperanto
Studies: Latin, Mandarin, Spanish

 Message 3 of 21
01 April 2013 at 9:45pm | IP Logged 
Two of my colleagues went to DLI.. One learned Korean in the mid 90's. He never actively practices his Korean but even know when we go to the local Korean restaurant he can order everything flawlessly and carry on a detailed conversation with the owners.

He said that the Korean course was very intensive and very stressful but ultimately rewarding and well worth the effort. He later went to Korea as a translator and has some great stories regarding his time there.

The other colleague learned Arabic in the early 90's and was deployed to Iraq during the Gulf War. She also agreed that it was very strenuous but well worth the effort. Now she devotes all her time to studying Indic languages, specifically Hindi, Tamil, and Gugarati but she still frequently reads in Arabic.

Ultimately, if you are really serious and dedicated I am sure that you will do very well and will be happy. Just remember that they are trying to teach you a significant amount very quickly and expect you to learn 30-50 new words per day in order to reach a high level in a Level 4 language in such a short time. I sincerely wish you the best of luck and look forward to hearing about your experiences when you are able to share them.
3 persons have voted this message useful

United States
Joined 4108 days ago

6 posts - 86 votes 
Speaks: English*, Russian
Studies: French, German

 Message 4 of 21
22 April 2013 at 4:21am | IP Logged 
This is my first-ever post on this board, so I'm uncomfortable in contradicting people who have been here longer. However, as I have spent three (non-consecutive) years at DLI (Basic, Intermediate and Advanced Russian), I can tell you that while the workload is considerable, it is not by any means "terrifying."

The washout rate is generally 25-30% for most Cat IV languages, 33-35% for Arabic. However, I can tell you with absolute certainty that a bare minimum of 90% of those who wash out do so because they don't have the self-discipline to stay there. Monterey and the surrounding area has its share of bars and other diversions, and kids who are living away from home for the first time with some spending cash in their pockets are prone to bad decisions. Given your DLAB score, if you really apply yourself there is almost no chance you'll wash out unless you let yourself do it through a series of stupid decisions involving alcohol and a new romantic relationship.

Here are some hints that will help:

1.) It is absolutely essential that you give yourself one day per weekend to wind down and get away from the language. As an example, on Saturday just go wild having whatever you consider legal and prudent fun. Sleep in late on Sunday, and then between lunch to dinner put in your study and homework time. Go to sleep early and start your week over. Repeat this cycle for your 47-63 weeks. Do NOT spend the entire weekend studying, because burnout will sneak up on you and by the time it hits you it's generally too late. One day per week to unwind is ESSENTIAL for success, and your MLI (military language instructor) will probably tell you the same.

2.) Don't waste time trying to study ahead. It won't do you any good, and you run the risk of teaching yourself something wrong (which can be tough to unlearn). In every class there will be one or two pompous blowhards who think it's cool to know advanced vocabulary before the first quarter of the course is over - just smile and let them. Slow and steady wins the race the day you take your DLPT.

3.) Under no circumstances be one of those idiots who waits until the morning of a quiz to cram vocabulary. You'll do poorly on the quizzes and you'll quickly forget the vocabulary. Do not go to sleep at night until you have completed your homework and have mastered the vocabulary for the next day.

4.) If at any time you think you're falling behind even a little, volunteer for the remedial hour at the end of the day. By the same token, however, keep a chart of your test scores and learn to forgive the occasional bad one. I've seen guys run up scores like 95, 97, 100, 89, 92, 96, 100, 72, 98, 94, 95, etc, and they spend weeks kicking themselves for that 72. Don't do that. Keeping a chart will remind you that your rare crappy score was an anomaly, and everyone has the occasional one. Even Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn had their occasional 0-for-4 days. If you get two or three crappy scores in a row, though, it's time to get that extra remedial hour.

5.) Besides overdoing it on booze and lack of sleep, the quickest way to wash out is to devote too much attention to the new boyfriend or girlfriend you're likely to find there.

6.) When watching language-related movies on your off time, make sure the speakers are natives. When I went through, we'd have idiot pipeline students (pipeline = "fresh out of boot camp") watching Clint Eastwood in Firefox (Eastwood was the former mayor of neighboring Carmel and the former owner of the Hog's Breath restaurant there), whose Russian is awful, and then coming in the next day speaking like idiots. Same with Sean Connery in Hunt for Red October, or - as I imagine is the case these days - Matt Damon in the second Bourne movie. Most actors suck at foreign languages. The only good sustained performance I ever saw was from Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson, and he did a half a year of DLI training just to develop the skills to effectively memorize the lines.

7.) If you do wash out, there are two ways it could be classified - LOA (which is either "lack of ability" or "lack of aptitude," I can't remember for sure) or LOE (lack of effort). An LOE will make your life hell, because I guarantee that your next assignment will be unpleasant. So, do what I did when I went through my first stint at Monterey: find a copy of Army Times (I assume that's your branch of service because of your use of the term "AIT") or something equivalent on the Internet, find a picture of some soldier doing a job you dread (KP duty, for example), and post that picture above your desk in your dorm. Look at that picture every day and I guarantee you that even in the unlikely event you do wash out, it won't be because of LOE.

8.) Keep quiet about your Spanish when you get there. It's rare, but I've seen instances where a sudden need for Spanish speakers got kids fluent in the language yanked out of their courses and sent off, thereby killing an opportunity that might never come again. Further, if you wash out of your Cat IV language there is a possibility you might get recycled into Spanish (cheaper to the government then starting over with a new student, you're already there), and then your Spanish course will be a comparative breeze for you (although if that happens you MUST condition yourself to study as if you're learning everything for the first time; half the people I saw wash out of Russian were blowhards who did a couple years in college and thought they already knew everything - and by the time they realized they didn't, it was too late).

Speaking of Spanish: if you're taking another language, your Spanish is going to suffer, probably a lot, at least for the time you're there. I went in to my first Russian class speaking German with reasonable fluency because of growing up with two parents, three grandparents, one aunt and one uncle who were native speakers (I also took four years of it in high school and one for college for the easy grade), and by the time I finished my Russian course, my German was terrible. Thankfully it came back quickly because my first duty assignment was in Germany, but in your case my best advice is this: you can always get back the Spanish. When you're at DLI taking your Cat IV language, forget your Spanish unless you're recycled into the Spanish course. Your Spanish is no more important than, say, your interest in Sudoku puzzles or the NBA draft. If you get Chinese, Russian or Arabic, that language will be your 9-5 job (plus 2-3 hours of homework) and your top priority.

9.) Your teachers will, throughout your course, occasionally teach you words and expressions that are not in your course. Although you might not need to memorize them, WRITE THEM DOWN AND SAVE THEM. This was one of the most valuable pieces of advice I ever got. Long after my first course was done and I found that notebook of "extra" phrases about halfway through my stint through Goodfellow, I couldn't believe the gems I had been taught and could have lost without that advice. You'll never get a better course of instruction than DLI, so record it all, even if you don't have immediate use for all of it.

10.) Buy a phrase book in your target language and keep it in your back pocket just to review the basics when you're standing in line for a soda at the beach, at the movie theater or whatever. You won't believe how often some kid strolls into his DLPT knowing full well how to say "We've triangualted the enemy's motorized rifle battalion 144 kilometers from here at an azimuth of 274 degrees" but clams up at the very first question he gets, which will ALWAYS be "Tell us about yourself."

11.) Make sure you go into your DLPT with your "Tell us about yourself" down so cold that you could say it completely drunk. Also, when doing the "tell us about yourself," YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TELL THE TRUTH. The follow-up questions will be based on whatever you say in your (hopefully) well-rehearsed "tell us about yourself" speech, so, for example, don't tell them you hold a master's rating in chess unless you know the words for all the pieces and the terms for castling, fork, pin, skewer, en passant, etc, and can intelligently discuss the 1972 Spassky-Fischer match, the Kasparov-Karpov matches (especially the scandal involving their 1984 match), the legacies of Botvinnik and Petrosian or the upcoming Anand-Carlsen match. Instead, let's assume you suck at basketball (or even if you excel at it) but you know all the terms and know the NBA well (as do many of the Russians and the Chinese, BTW) - in that case, lie and say something like how you got a basketball scholarship but chose to serve your country instead. Your next question will either be about basketball or your sense of patriotism, so be prepared for either. The oral DLPT is as much a chess match as it is a language exam.

12.) There will come a point in every course (in Russian it was Mod VIII, about halfway through the course) where nobody flunks out after that. Usually it's after you've gotten enough grammar to have learned the oblique cases in the plural. Once you've hit that point, then it DOES pay to start studying ahead a little. Your ProPay is going to be based on your DLPT scores, so learn relevant vocabulary about your target language's country or region. As an example, if I were taking the Chinese DLPT tomorrow, I'd be up all night learning vocabulary about earthquakes, because current events will be part of your DLPT (you'll be well-coached for it before you take it, don't worry). If soccer is the most popular sport in your target region, learn soccer vocabulary.

13.) At DLI they have exit materials for free. No matter how many books you get there, it won't count against your shipping allowance because it's professional materials, so GRAB EVERY PIECE OF FREE MATERIAL YOU CAN ON YOUR WAY OUT THE DOOR. As an example, DLI offers something called "Head Start" which will give you linguistic training for the country you're being sent to if that country's target language is not the one you just learned. In my case, I learned Russian, which could have gotten me sent to England, Japan, Germany, Italy or Greece at the time. Head start programs were available for all those languages except for English. Take those materials, don't pass them up. They're better than anything you'll find at Barnes and Noble and they're all free.

14.) It never hurts to find a few people who are there for the Intermediate or Advanced courses of your target language and make friends with them. An NCO taking a higher course will always be happy to help you out with questions as long as you don't spend hours a day pestering them, because you're all on the same team training for the same mission.

15.) If you have a car, do NOT have it shipped to Monterey. There will be plenty of others stupid enough to do so with whom you can always catch a ride, and there's plenty to see and do in walking distance anyway. Insurance is insanely expensive, especially if you're under 25, and you won't have enough free time for long road trips anyway. Have your car shipped to your first permanent duty station instead, and have friends or family watch over it while you're at DLI.

16.) If you're going to buy yourself a TV, stereo or anything else along those lines, get a small one you can pay for with cash, something which won't break your heart if TMO breaks it during shipping to Goodfellow or wherever else you're going. Don't finance anything, even through AAFES. People out there make a fortune signing stupid DLI kids to financing deals with insanely high interest rates. I once saw a classmate pay a grand total of a little over $2,000 over a year's time for a 21" TV and a VCR. I saw quite a few kids get booted out of DLI because they got into financial hot water.

17.) When you graduate, if you're under 21 do NOT go to the London Bridge Pub or wherever else and have a celebratory beer in public. It's common practice for training NCOs or officers to drop in on local restaurants the night students receive their diplomas just to catch underage drinkers (you can, by the way, be thrown out of DLI at any time for that). If this advice doesn't apply to you, then just remember it and pass it along to a friend to whom it might apply. When I was in my Advanced course there was a kid who, at age 20, got an extremely rare L3 R3 S3 (a score of the maximum 3 in listening, reading and speaking) in Arabic (those scores are rare for a pipeline student in any language, but back then it was almost unheard of for Arabic students) and had a beer at a local pizza place (I think it was called Gianni's, the place on the corner of Lighthouse and Prescott). The kid had his orders to Goodfellow redlined and wound up in some crappy, non-language assignment one stripe lighter than he had on his sleeve when the waitress brought the beer.

18.) If you're old enough to go to bars, don't be the loudest one in the place. There are some locals who don't much care for the military population. One bar where you could wind up in a fight for no reason is the infamous Mucky Duck (which was called the Rose and Crown during my first stint there). Getting into a local brawl is right up there with financial trouble, DUI and lack of effort on the list of easy ways to get thrown out of the school.

19.) This is the second-most important advice I will be able to give you (with THE most important piece to follow): check with your local security office about Internet use when it comes to your target country. They may have rules against you visiting certain sites, so don't just think it'll be considered admirable linguistic initiative to sign up for a Sina Weibo account or a VKontakte account (Chinese and Russian versions of Facebook) visiting Yahoo-like web portals such as .263 net,,, etc, or whipping up free e-mail accounts with foreign servers such as,,,, etc. If you want to play around with the language on the Web, Yahoo and MSN have versions in your target language (examples:,, and you can always configure your Yahoo, Hotmail or GMail account to work in your target language to pick up some Internet-related vocab (I recommend it). Just make sure you know EXACTLY what your security office's rules are, because if you make yourself ineligible for a security clearance they won't bother to finish your language training - you'll be packing the next day.

20.) Lastly, and perhaps the most important advice (not what I'd generally post on a language board, but this is crucial), which I'm giving you under the assumption that you're male: before you go, watch "Officer and a Gentleman" to remind yourself that there will be locals, females, who would like nothing more than to get pregnant by someone who has the security of a military paycheck and might be shipping off to some exotic place they'd like to see / live in. If you get Chinese, for instance, there's a great chance you could wind up in Hawaii, and you'd better assume that hot new local girlfriend of yours already knows that and wants to go to Hawaii herself. In terms of dating, you're much better sticking with one of your fellow students if possible. Proper and constant use of birth control is a must and don't ever trust her when she tells you it's taken care of. I know DOZENS of guys who fell into this trap.

Please forgive any typos in this post. The font is tiny, my vision is bad, and my typing is worse.

Best of luck, and keep us posted - especially on what language you get. If you get Chinese, I'll be jealous. If you get Russian, I'll be happy to answer questions.

Cheers -


Edited by Skvoznyak on 23 April 2013 at 5:24am

41 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
Joined 4406 days ago

1546 posts - 3200 votes 
Studies: German

 Message 5 of 21
22 April 2013 at 1:29pm | IP Logged 
Skvoznyak wrote:
This is my first-ever post on this board, so I'm uncomfortable in contradicting people who have been here longer.

This is definitely one of the most interesting posts I have read on this board. Almost makes me want to learn a language the military way.

I am curious given how intensive the classes are if you have time to any self-study (e.g., reading books in your TL for fun? or watching movies?). Or is that sort of pointless given all the learning you are doing? Do students generally talk in their TL?

Edited by patrickwilken on 22 April 2013 at 3:10pm

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Senior Member
Joined 5433 days ago

759 posts - 1197 votes 
Speaks: English*, French
Studies: German, Spanish, Dutch

 Message 6 of 21
22 April 2013 at 2:18pm | IP Logged 
Skvoznyak wrote:
... it is not by any means "terrifying."

Epic post, but I fear you may have helped confirm, rather than dispel, the idea that it may be terrifying.
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Senior Member
Virgin Islands
Speaks: Ladino
Joined 5135 days ago

2238 posts - 6731 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Creole (French)

 Message 7 of 21
22 April 2013 at 3:33pm | IP Logged 
As a veteran of the Armed Forces, I can say that any Military Occupational Specialty Advanced Individual Training unit is intense, obviously, some are more intense than others. The government expects you to learn your job. To learn that job well and carry out the mission that's assigned to you. Whether that is driving a truck, building bridges, toting an M-16, flying a helicopter or studying and using languages.

Non- veterans should be aware that, in addition to studying at the DLI in Monterrey, California, the students remain members of the US military, soldiers, airmen, naval personnel and marines with duties that must be performed. They will be expected to maintain their living quarters to military standards, maintain their person to high military standards, perform physical training and adhere to military specific standards, maintain weapons training and qualifying, obey all lawful orders and respect the chain of command, etc.- all while they are undergoing highly intense language training.

It's amazing what you can accomplish with discipline, especially when it is enforced discipline.   

Edited by iguanamon on 22 April 2013 at 5:28pm

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United States
Joined 5405 days ago

2615 posts - 8806 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
Personal Language Map

 Message 8 of 21
22 April 2013 at 3:58pm | IP Logged 
Skvoznyak wrote:
This is my first-ever post on this board, so I'm uncomfortable in contradicting people who have been here longer.

Your first post was an admirable contribution to the discussion here, and you're welcome to contradict anybody you want, especially if it's done in such a marvelously helpful fashion. :-) Seriously, welcome to the forum, and we hope to hear more from you in the future.

I chose the word "terrifying" only because I know students over at FSI are expected to reach ILR 3/3 in French in a mere 23 or 24 weeks, starting from nothing. And ILR 3/3 is supposedly equivalent to CEFRL C1, which is hard to achieve in a mere 6 months, though it certainly has been done.

Skvoznyak wrote:
11.) Make sure you go into your DLPT with your "Tell us about yourself" down so cold that you could say it completely drunk. Also, when doing the "tell us about yourself," YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TELL THE TRUTH.

Always excellent advice for an oral language exam. If an examiner asks you to pick a position on an issue and defend it, for example, you don't necessarily have to give your real opinion. Give an opinion you can defend and have an interesting conversation about.

Once again, welcome and thank you for an excellent post!

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