Canadian Armed Forces language training goes international at Operation UNIFIER

Article / October 29, 2018 / Project number: 18-0354

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By Roksolana Baran, Canadian Forces Language School, Saint-Jean Detachment with files from Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs. A previous version was published in Le Servir newspaper.

The Canadian Forces Language School’s Latin motto "PER LINGUAS COMMUNITAS" translates literally as "SOCIETY THROUGH LANGUAGE" and can be interpreted as the goal to promote universal understanding and co-operation through language.

Saint-Jean, Quebec — Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) support of English and French language training for its Allies in Ukraine goes back decades but it is only this year that such training has been offered outside Canada.

Ukrainian personnel have traditionally come to the Canadian Forces Language School (CFLS) Saint-Jean Detachment in Quebec for the training but demand has been increasing steadily since the start of Operation UNIFIER (Op UNIFIER) in 2015.

Through Op UNIFIER, the CAF is supporting Ukrainian security forces with equipment and training.

With the growing demand beginning to outstrip capacity at Saint-Jean, the CAF’s Directorate of Military Training and Cooperation (DMTC) initiated a plan to pilot a similar 10-week English-language course in Ukraine.

In addition to delivering the training itself, the pilot program will also help determine the overall feasibility of conducting targeted NATO Standardization Agreement (STANAG) language training abroad. STANAGs ensure NATO allies share common practices.

To execute the plan, Roksolana Baran, a Pedagogical Advisor with the Military Training and Cooperation Program (MTCP) at Saint-Jean, was deployed to Ukraine from late February to late May, 2018.

A civilian dropped into a military operation in the land of her heritage

“It was surreal. First of all, as a civilian how do you pack for three months and three seasons? When I got there it was minus 25 degrees but when I left it was over 27,” she said.

Ms. Baran said she felt a strong sense of heritage because her parents are from Ukraine; they were displaced from Germany during the Second World War. “It’s a land that is covered in blood, let’s just put it that way.”

“When I landed there I couldn’t believe how emotional it was for me,” she said. “The Ukrainians welcomed me like one of them. It was an amazing experience.”

It took a bit of time to find her place among the contrasts. “In the morning, I would put on my perfume and my little scarf, while the Op UNIFIER personnel were in their flak jackets,” she said. “They must have thought, ‘who the hell is she, and why is she here?’”

“I had a foot in each place. I had a foot with the Ukrainians where I spent my days but I also had a foot in Op UNIFIER where I was supported and sort of adopted for force protection.”

Ms. Baran delivered the course from March 12 to May 19, 2018 at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre in Starychi, Ukraine with the help of Ukrainian language teachers, who she hired and trained.

STANAG language profiles: a priceless gift

The course consisted of three classes with a combined total of 24 Ukrainian students. They ranged in rank from lieutenant to colonel, all keen to participate in training that would end with an official STANAG language profile.

“The Ukrainians were thrilled. It was the most amazing gift that we could have given them, to have this quality of language training,” she said.

She explained that the STANAG language certification makes them eligible to take other NATO-sponsored courses, something very important to their career progression.

Operational use of language training

Op UNIFIER is a training mission. The Ukrainians are being trained to go to the front. Most of the training is being done with the help of interpreters,” noted Ms. Baran.

“But interpreters can be security risks. The people in my courses were basically trainers, so they are now able to have dealings with their Canadian and American counterparts face-to-face and one-on-one without the presence of an interpreter.”

Testing using teleconferencing

The testing team from Military Personnel Generation in Saint-Jean, headed by Nancy Powers, supported Ms. Baran in a number of ways.

Ms. Powers and her team conducted oral proficiency interviews via videoconference and evaluated writing tests. The writing tests were administered in Ukraine and scanned back to Canada for evaluation by Ms. Powers and her team.

In addition, Ms. Powers’ team provided Ms. Baran with listening and reading tests that were administered on site in Ukraine. Ms. Baran commented, “It was quite an involved process!”

Ms. Powers noted that when working with beginners, it helps if the students and trainers can see one another, a goal that was challenged by time differences and technological glitches. “We were strangers, so at least if they can see our faces, it is just a little bit more personal.”

Donations of language-training equipment welcomed

As part of its support, DMTC provided eight desk-top computers and other necessary equipment. NATO’s Partnership for Peace – a program to develop relationships between NATO and its various member nations – also provided equipment.

Next steps for international language training

The results of this pilot initiative are being examined for impact and sustainability and it remains to be determined if additional language training courses will be provided abroad in future years.

“We would like to develop a Centre of Excellence in Ukraine because Ukraine has a special place in the Canadian global affairs picture due to Ukraine’s conflict with Russia,” said Ms. Baran.

“Although there is demand in other countries, it is very expensive to do this. I think Operation UNIFIER provides the perfect context for the continuation of the course, should this be the final decision of the DMTC.”

Operation UNIFIER is Canada’s contribution to support Ukrainian forces through capacity building, in coordination with the United States and other countries providing similar training assistance. Military assistance is one component of Canada’s support to Ukraine across development, security, democracy and humanitarian aid.

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