Why is Monterey Called the Language Capital of the World?

Why is Monterey Called the Language Capital of the World?
May 25, 2016
Dino Pick, Chairman of Board of the Defense Language Institute, and Deputy City Manager of the City of Monterey, California, joins us to discuss why Monterey is known as the world’s language capital. And why a one-of-a-kind hub of linguistic talent is such a critical resource for national defense—and for global brand communications.
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Michael Welcome to Globally Speaking. I’m Michael Stevens.
Renato I’m Renato Beninatto.
Michael We’re sitting here in the beautiful Monterey California. Life does not get much better than this.
Renato it’s true. And we have an important guest today.
Michael We do. We are privileged to be speaking with Dino Pick today. Dino has an illustrious background. A couple of things I’d like to highlight and Dino, we’d love to hear from you; you were the Iraq country desk officer in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. You were the commandant – that’s a word I need to nail in my vocabulary – commandant of the Defense Language Institute for Foreign Language Center.
Dino Just think of Stalag 13.
Michael Stalag 13. Okay! The commandant. Or Minions, I think also, that’s my reference.
Dino There you go, perfect!
Michael And you still serve as the chairman of the board there?
Dino The foundation, that’s right.
Michael For the foundation. And you are currently serving as deputy City Manager here in beautiful Monterey.
Renato So, Monterey is called the language capital of the world, why is that?
Dino Great question. First of all, it’s great to be here with you guys. I’m so glad you are here in Monterey and we’re thrilled that Moravia is here as well. So, Monterey in the early ‘90s was coined the language capital of the world by some local folks because it’s home to the Defense Language Institute; the Monterey Institute for International Studies, a naval post-graduate school, which has a robust language program, as well as some of the businesses that were here at the time, ATT Language Line Services, and so on.

That sort of faded out over the years and a few years ago we were able to reinvigorate it. So, we trade-marked Monterey as the language capital of the world, and when I say we, specifically the Monterey County Business Council put in the resources to trade-mark that term and we started doing a pretty robust public outreach and some celebrations in town which had some wonderful results.
Michael That’s a pretty big branding shift from being known for Cannery Row and Steinbeck. How effective has it been, do you feel?
Dino Yeah, another great question. So, we were – of course, Monterey is known for golf, they’re known for tourism is a huge part of our economy…
Renato Wasn’t Clint Eastwood the Mayor here?
Dino Right down the road Carmel-by-the-Sea. Exactly, you are exactly right. So, a lot of star power and glitz and, of course, the agriculture sector is huge here. So, language was not as well-known and we were glad to start to sing those praises of these institutions and resources. And as part of that branding effort, about a year ago a company called Moravia reached out to Monterey County Business Council and we’re really proud, really proud, here in Monterey to be able to say we’re now hosting a business unit of Moravia and that, we think, is the result of that branding and that outreach.
Michael And there is a full other list of companies, you mentioned a few of them in passing, Language Line headquarters…
Renato Language Line is here; you have Media Locate another company that is local. There are several, Venga, I think, was here for a while.
Michael That’s right, effective.
Renato The important thing is that you have access to language resources here because you have students from all over the world; they change names, it’s not Monterey Institute anymore.
Dino That’s right, Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
Renato The Middlebury Institute has students from, I think, 70 countries here. These are native students, postgraduate students, MBA classes and that’s a very important resource for us, it’s a concentration of talent that is very important. But, I’m curious about the side that we don’t know so much about which is the military side. Why is the Defense Language Institute here; why was or is the naval institute here; what kind of language training is provided? Because, I understand, from history, I don’t know where, if it is a fact, that…
Michael That’s never stopped us!
Renato It’s the top language school in the world where you really learn languages efficiently is the DLI.
Dino So, I’m a little partial. I commanded the school for four years and so it runs in my veins as Bob can attest. So, DLI started a few months before Pearl Harbor as the army language school up in San Francisco, classified school teaching Japanese language. It has grown since then to the flagship institution that it is today teaching about 3800 students, all of them are military, they’re from all four services; the vast majority are very young, have no backgrounds in the languages they’re studying but have demonstrated on a very rigorous aptitude test called the Defense Language Aptitude Battery, the aptitude for language learning.

So, I used to tell the story to my students when I would speak to them. Every week we would start classes and every week we graduate so it’s a rolling process at DLI and I used to tell this story and that is that I grew up speaking Assyrian, Aramaic, so I was bi-lingual in the house; studied Spanish for five years like most of us in high school and junior high; went to college and studied Persian Farsi at the University of Washington and majored in it, four years of language major. And the pace of language study at DLI hit me like a bus.
Michael It eclipsed what you had done before.
Dino I mean, I learned more Arabic than I had learned Farsi in four years of college after the first two months at DLI.
Renato Is it the methodology?
Michael I was wondering the same thing.
Dino No, great questions. So, when you start at DLI it’s a near immersive environment is the way I would characterize it. So, eight hours a day of intensive language study, two to four hours of homework a night, for either six, 12 or 15 months depending on how long your language course is. So, it just builds and builds and build very, very rapidly. And it brings you to a point of proficiency at the end of that course that is unlike anything produced in our universities and, frankly, anything I’ve ever seen anywhere around the world.
Michael So, we have a confirmed source that has told us because of this rapid language learning that in the third month you start dreaming in the language?
Dino It is, it’s very soon, in the language course. And it’s kind of an unnatural thing; I mean, when you are a mono-lingual person as the vast majority of Americans are, to have a dream in another language; a little unsettling. But, again, what makes that possible is an amazing faculty of civilians that are native speakers of the languages they’re teaching from the countries, bringing the culture, bringing the religions, bringing all of the experiences from those countries into the classroom and make – what I referred to earlier – this near immersive experience so rich. It’s remarkable.
Renato What is the biggest language that you have here?
Dino Arabic. But, it’s changed over time. So, you can imagine…
Renato You started with Japanese.
Dino Japanese. Then, of course, you know, over the years, Russian during the Cold War was the largest language. Vietnamese became a large language during the Vietnam conflict.
Renato So, it’s driven by war.
Dino Yeah, it actually is!
Michael As we were talking about this podcast today I said we were going to get to hear some war stories this evening– not figuratively, literal war stories – because of this, because of what you do.
Renato But the Russians also have a very advanced training program for linguists. Is it a similar methodology do we know about, because there was this super-learning approach that they had in the ‘70s?
Michael Are we in a race with them on that too?
Dino You know, we’re so much better! The answer is, I honestly don’t know their methodology. I do know that the customers of our graduates at DLI which is the Federal Government, the Department of Defense, primarily, and the intelligence community more specifically, are very pleased. They are very pleased with the product.

And if I can highlight for a moment the Arabic, anyone that studied Arabic knows what modern standard Arabic is, it’s sort of Koranic classic Arabic. And, forever, that’s how you learned Arabic in an academic setting, you learned modern, standard Arabic. And then you would go and live somewhere and learn the dialect. And it sounds sort of like Shakespearean English, it’s frankly ridiculous when you hear it spoken. That’s what I learned when I went through, or Bob learned as well.

So, what we did in the years after 911 as a result of the demand of our customer, we developed full, 15-month dialect courses and the product of that, it’s changing the way Arabic is taught in universities and the product is this amazingly agile, proficient linguist that not only understands modern standard – in other words, can read and write – it has this capability and facility with the spoken language and by extension the cultural acuity that’s really remarkable.
Michael You mentioned something in passing there that caught my attention. You spoke about your customer. Can you talk a little bit about the business side? Again, being somewhat familiar with your school, it’s not run by the government, or is it?
Dino Our graduates are uniform, so they are uniform military, and we go to work for the Federal Government.
Michael So, that would be the customer you’re serving.
Dino Right. So, our customer, when I say our customer, it is the Department of Defense, our embassies, so the State Department is a consumer of DLI graduates, the officers primarily foreign area[ph 9.56] officers which is what I did working in the Middle East in Kuwait, and Jordan at our embassies; and the intelligence community which is where a lot of our graduates go to work.
Renato Is it funded by the government?
Dino It is, it’s budgeted. It’s an army school; its budget comes through the army but it is watched carefully by the intelligence community so that it’s adequately funded.
Michael So, election years and things like that are very important to you guys because your funding is tied to the current state of who’s doing what.
Dino You bet. And in budget cycles where we’re currently under the budget control act, or sequestration, you can imagine there are severe budget cuts that go on and DLI has not been immune to that but, at the same time there’s an understanding that the graduates of DLI aren’t optional; they are a critical national security capability that has to continue to stream, like blood, into the organizations that utilize them in order to provide the US the capability it has.
Renato After 911 there was this huge discussion of the declining availability of linguists in the United States, that there were fewer university courses and still a large focus on Russian, which wasn’t the enemy anymore. How has that changed in the last 15 years?
Dino That’s a great question. So, when I came to DLI in 1996 to study Arabic, Arabic was growing. And it was growing as a result of Desert Storm, the end of the Cold War in ’89, Desert Storm in ’91, the realization that the Middle East was going to be in a state of not only turmoil but, clearly, a national security focus for the United States. So, DLI’s Arabic program was growing at the time.

When I came back here in 2008 it had grown to the largest program at DLI and it had developed dialect programs as well as modern standard, and it was a critical, critical programme that fed these Arabic speakers out into not only the government but, by extension, into the larger federal government and into the business community.
Renato Are we graduating enough students or do we need to develop this more?
Dino That’s a great question. There is, from the perspective of many, not nearly enough emphasis on foreign language education, in particular at the primary and secondary levels, where language, as you might imagine as you know, young people are very, very receptive. So, there is a critical shortfall there and then onward at the university level there is similarly not nearly enough focus.

DLI is just fortunate because we literally get our requirements from the federal government. We get a budget from the federal government to train the linguists, to fulfil that requirement, and we do. I’ll elaborate a little bit on that.

After 911 not only did we need Arabic speakers; we needed Pashtu speakers; Dari speakers; Urdu speakers; and frankly, those programs in the United States – if they existed at all – were tiny. So, the growth at DLI in those language programs was explosive. Again, the incredible talent at DLI, recruited very bright young – not necessarily young – very bright, talented, native speakers; wrote curriculum; wrote tests; started classes in these languages and then grew them to the point where, when I came here in 2008 Pashtu, Dari, Urdu, were robust; hundreds and hundreds of students programs, per language, separate and distinct from Arabic.
Renato I’m curious. You made a comment that it’s an international joke, a person who speaks several languages, a polyglot, three languages trilingual, two languages bilingual, one American. So, how do you get Americans from Minnesota or Idaho or Kansas to come here and learn a language and learn a language that they never heard of; how do you determine their proficiency or aptitude?
Michael And please tell me it’s changing. Please tell me that people are more interested, that the joke is going to run out soon.
Dino Yeah. You know, I wish I could. I wish I could. I think the joke still rings true.
Renato But, this is very good for the language business in general because the less people know languages the more you need translations.
Dino That’s true. Yeah. No, no, it bodes very well for your business. But, I would say this. First of all the number of students wanting to come to DLI is greater than ever and, basically, here’s how it works. Young people walk into a recruiter’s office; they want to be soldiers; sailors; airmen; and marines. They start taking tests and if you score very, very high on the initial battery of tests which are sort of general SAT type tests, then you are invited back to take this test I referred to earlier called the Defense Language Aptitude Battery. It’s a test on a made-up language, very strange test, very strange test. Depending on how you score on that determines, (a) whether you are even eligible for language study; and if you are what difficulty of language you can study.
Michael It’s a made up language!
Renato That’s awesome.
Michael Is it something that can be learned or does your brain work that way?
Dino I’ve never seen a test like it before and you don’t get any prep, you don’t get to take it twice, but it’s a very good indicator of aptitude. It’s a well-designed test. Now, here’s what it doesn’t test. It doesn’t test motivation; it doesn’t assess for biographical sketch, background. And so, take me for example, I go in – and I was fortune, I scored well on it – it didn’t tell the army that I spoke a Semitic language already. So, when I came to DLI, being a Syrian speaker, Arabic for me was much easier; it’s one of the most difficult languages for an English speaker to learn but I’m an English speaker but I also speak a Semitic language. So, for me, Arabic was much easier to learn.

The DLAB doesn’t test for that – the Defense Language Aptitude Battery. The revised test which should be fielded now, it was under development when I was in command and should be in the field now, asks for biographical background and it has sort of a component that tests for motivation because it’s so important. You can take somebody that’s off the charts aptitude-wise and they go in the classroom and they just don’t have the will, the desire, to endure this very uncomfortable and intense academic environment; and they’ll wash out. So, getting a better holistic view of the candidates is really important; not only for their success but in terms of not wasting resources.
Renato Out of curiosity, can we have access to an old test like this? I would love to take the test.
Michael He wants to take it!
Dino The Army Wants You!
Michael you have probably seen students come in who have grown up on the internet so device in their pocket – what do they call them, internet natives, I believe – has the technology changed the way language is taught?
Dino Absolutely, and it’s a great question. So, what’s happened from the time I was at DLI where we had cassette tapes, we had printed text books, to now, is a kind of a sea change. And the change is driven by technology and the internet. So, DLI now has campus-wide Wi-Fi, it has an academic network, so a dot.edu that we’re familiar with seeing at most universities. DLI has moved to an academic network rather than military network because military networks are there for information insurance, they’re not there to enable education.

So, because of those security protocols we could not access native content at certain overseas locations; we couldn’t have the ease of Wi-Fi and portability in terms of smart phones, iPads and other devices, and so DLI deployed an academic network, separate and distinct from the military network. Every student goes down and is issued an iPad and they are able to access authentic material, is the term we use in general, authentic audio, video, written content, and it’s very timely. Your text books aren’t 15 years old and getting older by the day; your lessons can be weeks old, days old, maybe even hours old based on the content an instructor wants to go in, download, edit and use and deploy in the classroom. It’s wonderful. It adds currency and authenticity that we simply didn’t have before.

And you are right, our students come in and it’s like breathing. For faculty, not so much. So, our faculty have an education and training challenge where their students are more – potentially – literate in technology than they are, especially depending on where form the world they come. So, it’s a very interesting challenge we have now with training and education of our faculty but that’s how it’s changed and it’s wonderful.
Renato Other languages, is there still interest for European languages, is there still interest for…
Michael We are probably competing with the Germans on a lot of the listening we do around the world.
Dino So, Spanish, Portuguese, French are robust languages at DLI. Interestingly, some of that demand is driven by Continental needs, in other words, our requirements for communication, translation, on the European continent. Some of it is colonial; French is spoken throughout Africa, Portuguese in large, large parts of the world due to colonial presence.
Renato And Spanish.
Dino And Spanish the same way. So, these are still really large programs. Asian programs, as you might guess, Chinese is huge; Japanese is still taught; Korean of huge importance based on what’s going on and continues to happen on the peninsular there and the challenges posed to the US, potentially. And then, Farsi.
Renato So, it’s very geo-political.
Dino It really is.
Renato That’s fantastic. Michael, what do you think, I think this is our best show until now?
Michael It absolutely is. Dino, this is fabulous. I’ve learned, I’ve been challenged, I want to take a test that is in something made up!
Renato Let’s go back to that question. Would we have access to one of these tests if we could share with our listeners?
Dino You know, I think it’s really, really well-protected. For good reason.
Michael Renato, I’ll write one for you.
Renato I will tell a little story. Actually, around 1993 I created a made up language and I created it because when I had my business in Brazil I needed translators but there were no schools and there wasn’t anything, and so I created a training course that was called Techniques in Technical Translation. And regardless of language I would get a person that had language skills in any pair of language, teach them the 13 translation techniques and the way that I tested them, I had this case study that I was an adventurer that went to Easter Island and was the first person to really decipher Rongorongo; and there was this 130 word text and a dictionary, all made up and the people needed to translate. This language had only passive voice and things like that. So, all the challenges in translation and they had to convert from passive to active and so on. So, this is why I was fascinating. I invented one; I wanted to see another one like that.
Michael Dino, we want to give you a chance to say last words, anything you would like to encourage our listeners on?
Dino I’ll tell you this; I’ll reiterate that Monterey is really fortunate to have Moravia here and we are very, very rich in not only language, culture, capabilities and this whole notion of being in the language capital of the world; we are all the more rich because Moravia is now part of the fabric of our community. So, I’m excited to stay engaged with and see how Moravia evolves here and how DLI continues to be a part of it and how, together, we help not only the United States but the global situation hopefully move away from conflict and prosper and interact in a more effective manner. Thanks for taking the time with me today.
Michael Thank you for your words. Maybe we’ll be able to do a check-in and let you know how it’s going down the road here. It is lovely to be here and thank you for your work and the hospitality that’s been shown to us.
Dino Our pleasure.

End of conversation

Dino Pick

Col. Danial D. Pick served as the Commandant of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center from 2010-2014. He became a Middle East Foreign Area Officer in 1996 and served multiple tours in the region. A graduate of the DLIFLC Basic Arabic course, he speaks Arabic, Persian-Farsi, Persian-Dari and Assyrian. He served as the director of the Army’s Foreign Area Officer program at the Presidio prior to taking the position of DLIFLC Commandant. He currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Defense Language Institute Foundation and as Deputy City Manager at the City of Monterey.

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