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


KOSOVO – According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 21 % of men and women in the United States of America speak a further language, other than English, at residence. Even though 78 % of Americans speak only 1 language, this can make items complicated for them abroad. The stories of these who can speak more languages, and how they discovered it, can typically be as fascinating as the language itself.

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Aivaras Bartkaitis is a Healthcare 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 difficult 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 ahead of enrolling in college and the Army National Guard.

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

“In Lithuania, the Russian language is really widespread as nicely,” Bartkaitis mentioned. “I want to say I’m fluent in Russian I would say I realize it and can speak it to a fourth-grade level, since I’m struggling to retain up that language talent.”

Russian was a expected language for all the Soviet States and was a secondary language of Lithuania, when it was aspect of the Soviet Union right after Globe War II.

“They [Lithuania] had a really historical occasion named 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, regardless of whether voluntarily or involuntarily, gave up their culture and language in favor of Russian culture and language.

“The language is a really sacred aspect of Lithuanian culture since we had to deal with the entire circumstance of Russia attempting to get rid of our language and getting to do underground schools, books, smuggling and all that to retain the language alive,” mentioned Bartkaitis.

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

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

Bartkaitis noted the similarities amongst his selecting up of Russian and the Soldiers he is presently serving with in Kosovo, finding out up Albanian.

“It was sort of the exact same circumstance particularly when you went into a restaurant. They would have Lithuanian written and Russian written suitable underneath, or the street indicators would have Lithuanian written on top rated and Russian beneath it, so it was a really rapid way to choose up items,” Bartkaitis mentioned.

Cultural immersion is a further way to discover a language. When a individual is engaged in a culture, they have the possibilities to choose up the language and realize it. Bartkaitis mentioned a lot of the culture comes from slang or humor, and is a direct reflection of the region.

“When you know the language, you realize additional of the culture exactly where the language came from and the culture puts you in a greater viewpoint [to learn] how men and women reside in a distinct aspect of the planet,” mentioned Bartkaitis.

U.S. Army Sgt. Logan Babcock agreed that cultural immersion is a fantastic way to discover a further language.

A Soldier with the Headquarters and Headquarters Firm, 76th IBCT, Indiana Army National Guard, deployed to Kosovo, Babcock studied at Indiana University and enrolled in the Turkish Flagship plan. This plan was distinct from most since the students would meet with a native speaker twice a week, conduct 1-on-1 conversations and the speaker would also enable 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 season and two semesters abroad at Baku Language University, in Baku, Azerbaijan,” Babcock mentioned.

Traveling to Azerbaijan, Babcock continued his plan there. He nonetheless 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 normally related it with the Ottoman Empire becoming the bridge amongst the East and West in Asia and Europe. He also mentioned the Turkish language utilizes the Latin alphabet, which was an appealing function of the language.

Babcock has utilised his Turkish language in Kosovo for the duration of a trip to the city, Prizren. Turkish is also 1 of the minor languages of Kosovo and Babcock had various conversations in Turkish with some of the locals.

“I feel 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 utilised that as an chance to practice his more talent.

“I’ve been in a position to interact with the groups of Turks who operate with us, as aspect of our Kosovo mission,” Babcock mentioned.

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

“It’s a significantly less studied language all through the globe, so it is really surprising when they [Turkish Soldiers] locate somebody in a position to speak it,” Babcock mentioned.

Even though Latkaitis and Babcock have each discovered their languages by way of immersion into the culture by living in the nations, U.S. Army Spc. Joshua Steelman took a distinct path.

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

Prior to leaving for standard 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 distinct sounds and applying standard grammar guidelines to produced-up words. Primarily based on their final results, 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 the easiest and shortest course at 30 weeks. It has six languages such as Spanish, Italian and French when Category II has 4 languages: German, Romanian, and Indonesian. Category III is the biggest category, getting 28 languages such as 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.

Right after standard 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 when 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 really 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 expected to discover 30 new words a day. Right after the 1st two weeks, the students went subject by subject starting with household, meals, areas 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 committed to a new grammar point and towards the finish, the subjects got a tiny additional complicated, like with economics and politics. At the really finish [of the course], it was just studying what we felt we required to operate on the most.”

In spite of becoming deployed in Kosovo, Steelman nonetheless keeps up with this Farsi on the other hand he can.

“I have a Farsi Bible that I study occasionally,” 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 men and women with household who speak a further language, or, in the case of U.S.Army Spc. Tristan Reed, can not speak at all.

Reed is Combat Engineer, and also a member Headquarters and Headquarters Firm, 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 normally go and hang out with them practically every single other weekend or every single weekend and it just intrigued me to discover additional about sign language,” Reed mentioned.

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

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

Discovering the World through Languages: Deployed Soldiers’ Stories

Spc. Tristan Reed (left) shows Spc. Connor Templeton (suitable), each from the Headquarters and Headquarters Firm, 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, ahead of moving on to presentations on signing and having hands-on practice. Reed mentioned every single year the class would place on a concert in sign language for the duration of Christmas time.

“I try to remember 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 nonetheless utilised his capabilities outdoors of college when he worked in the nearby hospital’s cafeteria. He mentioned the nurses knew he could sign and would ask him to enable communicate with individuals.

“Most nurses would know a further language or they would have some kind of translator, but they had no 1 for sign language,” Reed mentioned.

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

“The straightforward 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 recognizing a second language is invaluable. Even though becoming in a position to communicate in a further language is beneficial, it is the understanding and appreciation of a further culture that tends to make the struggle to discover worthwhile.

“It offers us a distinct viewpoint of life general,” Bartkaitis mentioned.

He mentioned he knows it is no simple activity to discover a further language, but with each and every language a individual learns, the additional about the culture they can realize.

Steelman mentioned recognizing a further language assists expand your horizons and realize distinct views.

“I feel it also offers a deeper appear into other cultures,” Steelman mentioned. “I discovered a lot about it is [Farsi’s] men and women, about how they view the planet, their viewpoint on every thing, and I feel the language truly assists with that.”

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