March 26, 2023 3:13 pm

1st Lt. Aivaras Barkaitis poses with a Lithuanian flag whilst deployed in Kosovo, Feb. 9, 2023.
(Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Herschel Talley)


KOSOVO – According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 21 % of people today in the United States of America speak one more language, other than English, at household. Though 78 % of Americans speak only 1 language, this can make issues complicated for them abroad. The stories of these who can speak added languages, and how they discovered it, can typically be as fascinating as the language itself.

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Aivaras Bartkaitis is a Health-related Operations Officer with the 2nd Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment, 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Group (IBCT), Indiana Army National Guard and was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The son of Lithuanian immigrants, his parents had a challenging time raising him and his siblings due to their monetary circumstance. Bartkaitis, his brother and sister had been sent to Lithuania to reside with their grandparents and godparents. When he turned 16, Bartkaitis and his siblings returned to the United States and completed higher college prior to enrolling in college and the Army National Guard.

Bartkaitis says he speaks fluent Lithuanian and English, but also grew up being aware of Russian as nicely.

“In Lithuania, the Russian language is pretty typical as nicely,” Bartkaitis mentioned. “I want to say I’m fluent in Russian I would say I recognize it and can speak it to a fourth-grade level, since I’m struggling to preserve up that language ability.”

Russian was a essential language for all the Soviet States and was a secondary language of Lithuania, when it was element of the Soviet Union immediately after Globe War II.

“They [Lithuania] had a pretty historical occasion known as the Russification,” Bartkaitis mentioned.

Russification started below the Tsars, or Russian emperors, in the late eighteenth century and continued till the collapse of the Soviet Union, December 26, 1991. The Russification was a kind of cultural assimilation in which non-Russians, whether or not voluntarily or involuntarily, gave up their culture and language in favor of Russian culture and language.

“The language is a pretty sacred element of Lithuanian culture since we had to deal with the complete circumstance of Russia attempting to get rid of our language and obtaining to do underground schools, books, smuggling and all that to preserve the language alive,” mentioned Bartkaitis.

Bartkaitis mentioned although the Soviet Union collapsed at the finish of 1991, several of his relatives nevertheless spoke Russian and it was employed in several television shows and books. He added that it became a second language that was provided in schools, but was not mandatory.

“I just picked it up from becoming about relatives and speaking to other people today,” Bartkaitis mentioned.

Bartkaitis noted the similarities involving his choosing up of Russian and the Soldiers he is at the moment serving with in Kosovo, finding out up Albanian.

“It was type of the exact same circumstance particularly when you went into a restaurant. They would have Lithuanian written and Russian written proper underneath, or the street indicators would have Lithuanian written on prime and Russian beneath it, so it was a pretty swift way to choose up issues,” Bartkaitis mentioned.

Cultural immersion is one more way to discover a language. When a particular person is engaged in a culture, they have the possibilities to choose up the language and recognize it. Bartkaitis mentioned a lot of the culture comes from slang or humor, and is a direct reflection of the location.

“When you know the language, you recognize additional of the culture exactly where the language came from and the culture puts you in a improved viewpoint [to learn] how people today reside in a various element of the globe,” mentioned Bartkaitis.

U.S. Army Sgt. Logan Babcock agreed that cultural immersion is a excellent way to discover one more language.

A Soldier with the Headquarters and Headquarters Organization, 76th IBCT, Indiana Army National Guard, deployed to Kosovo, Babcock studied at Indiana University and enrolled in the Turkish Flagship system. This system was various from most since the students would meet with a native speaker twice a week, conduct 1-on-1 conversations and the speaker would also aid them study. He also mentioned the students would do language immersion trips inside Indiana and speak in Turkish all through the weekend with the native speakers.

“I also did a summer time and two semesters abroad at Baku Language University, in Baku, Azerbaijan,” Babcock mentioned.

Traveling to Azerbaijan, Babcock continued his system there. He nevertheless stayed with households who had been from Turkey, but lived and worked in Azerbaijan.

“It was a special challenge of not only attempting to discover Turkish abroad, but also attempting to discover Turkish in a nation exactly where Turkish is not necessarily the dominant language,” Babcock mentioned.

Babcock was drawn to finding out Turkish and had often related it with the Ottoman Empire becoming the bridge involving the East and West in Asia and Europe. He also mentioned the Turkish language makes use of the Latin alphabet, which was an desirable function of the language.

Babcock has employed his Turkish language in Kosovo in the course of a trip to the city, Prizren. Turkish is also 1 of the minor languages of Kosovo and Babcock had numerous conversations in Turkish with some of the locals.

“I assume they anticipated that we would all speak English to them, so it was cool I could speak to them in Turkish,” Babcock mentioned.

Kosovo Force hosts a contingency of Turkish Soldiers and Babcock employed that as an chance to practice his added ability.

“I’ve been capable to interact with the groups of Turks who function with us, as element of our Kosovo mission,” Babcock mentioned.

He mentioned the Turkish Soldiers are typically taken aback at his potential to speak Turkish with them.

“It’s a significantly less studied language all through the globe, so it is pretty surprising when they [Turkish Soldiers] come across somebody capable to speak it,” Babcock mentioned.

Though Latkaitis and Babcock have each discovered their languages via immersion into the culture by living in the nations, U.S. Army Spc. Joshua Steelman took a various path.

Steelman joined the Indiana Army National Guard in 2020, and now serves with the Headquarters and Headquarters Organization, 76th IBCT, deployed to Kosovo.

Prior to leaving for simple coaching, Steelman had the chance to take the Defense Language Aptitude Battery, which evaluates how nicely a native English speaker can discover a new language. Concerns on the test variety from deciding on words that have various sounds and applying simple grammar guidelines to produced-up words. Primarily based on their benefits, applicants are divided into 4 categories by difficulty to discover. Steelman’s scores placed him in the Category III language: Farsi.

Category I is regarded as the easiest and shortest course at 30 weeks. It has six languages like Spanish, Italian and French whilst Category II has 4 languages: German, Romanian, and Indonesian. Category III is the biggest category, obtaining 28 languages like Polish, Ukrainian, Russian and Farsi, which are discovered more than 48 weeks. Category IV is the highest level, with languages like Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Pashto, requiring 63 weeks of finding out.

Immediately after simple coaching at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Steelman was sent to the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, Calif. for 48 weeks to discover Farsi.

Discovering the World through Languages: Deployed Soldiers’ Stories

Spc. Joshua Steelman reads his Farsi Bible whilst deployed in Kosovo, Feb. eight, 2023.
(Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Herschel Talley)


“It was intense,” Steelman mentioned, when asked what the coaching was like. “It was eight hours a day of finding out the language with teachers, in the classroom setting and then, in addition to that, we had two hours of homework, so it was a pretty intensive study of that 1 language.”

Steelman mentioned the course began with sound and script for the 1st two weeks, finding out the alphabet, the sounds of the language and how to create the script. He mentioned even in the starting, the students had been essential to discover 30 new words a day. Immediately after the 1st two weeks, the students went subject by subject starting with household, meals, locations of interest.

“There was speaking practice at the finish of the day exactly where we participated in produced-up scenarios,” Steelman mentioned.

“Through two thirds of the course, 1 hour each and every day was devoted to a new grammar point and towards the finish, the subjects got a small additional complicated, like with economics and politics. At the pretty finish [of the course], it was just studying what we felt we necessary to function on the most.”

Regardless of becoming deployed in Kosovo, Steelman nevertheless keeps up with this Farsi nonetheless he can.

“I have a Farsi Bible that I study at times,” Steelman mentioned. “I listen to the Farsi BBC, and YouTube and there’s some Farsi podcasts and speak shows that I watch.”

Maintaining up on a language can be a matter of necessity for people with household who speak one more language, or, in the case of U.S.Army Spc. Tristan Reed, cannot speak at all.

Reed is Combat Engineer, and also a member Headquarters and Headquarters Organization, 76th IBCT, Indiana Army National Guard, deployed to Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo. He grew up with an aunt who was fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) since her parents had been deaf.

“I would often go and hang out with them virtually each and every other weekend or each and every weekend and it just intrigued me to discover additional about sign language,” Reed mentioned.

Reed attended higher college in Indianapolis, Ind. and necessary to take an elective foreign language class to get his core 40 honors. He decided to take sign language due to the new teacher in fact becoming deaf. Reed mentioned he saw this as an chance to discover additional and be capable to surprise his aunt with his information.

“I was pretty intrigued on finding out how it all worked and just finding out additional about sign language,” Reed mentioned, as he knew absolutely nothing of the culture prior to the class.

Discovering the World through Languages: Deployed Soldiers’ Stories

Spc. Tristan Reed (left) shows Spc. Connor Templeton (proper), each from the Headquarters and Headquarters Organization, 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Group, Indiana Army National Guard, how to spell his name in American Sign Language, in Kosovo, Feb. 25, 2023.
(Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Herschel Talley)


As with finding out any new language, the class began with the alphabet and greetings, prior to moving on to presentations on signing and receiving hands-on practice. Reed mentioned each and every year the class would place on a concert in sign language in the course of Christmas time.

“I don’t forget my junior year, we did ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ in sign language and her [the teacher] complete deaf neighborhood came out as we sang and signed,” mentioned Reed.

Reed nevertheless employed his capabilities outdoors of college when he worked in the regional hospital’s cafeteria. He mentioned the nurses knew he could sign and would ask him to aid communicate with sufferers.

“Most nurses would know one more language or they would have some form of translator, but they had no 1 for sign language,” Reed mentioned.

In ASL, being aware of the culture and the nuances is essential. Reed mentioned he discovered a lot of signing is employing your expression and physique language when speaking, if you want to be understood.

“The uncomplicated reality is when you ‘speak’ in sign language, you have to use expressions and feelings, otherwise the context is lost,” Reed mentioned.

Reed, along with Bartkaitis, Babcock and Steelman, all agree that being aware of a second language is invaluable. Though becoming capable to communicate in one more language is beneficial, it is the understanding and appreciation of one more culture that tends to make the struggle to discover worthwhile.

“It offers us a various viewpoint of life all round,” Bartkaitis mentioned.

He mentioned he knows it is no uncomplicated activity to discover one more language, but with each and every language a particular person learns, the additional about the culture they can recognize.

Steelman mentioned being aware of one more language aids expand your horizons and recognize various views.

“I assume it also delivers a deeper appear into other cultures,” Steelman mentioned. “I discovered a lot about it is [Farsi’s] people today, about how they view the globe, their viewpoint on all the things, and I assume the language actually aids with that.”

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