How can the Defense Intelligence Agency ensure its staff members can effectively communicate in the everyday environments of far-flung places without sending them into potentially risky situations? Agency leaders are hoping the answer to improve foreign language training is just a computer away.
In a sources sought notice issued in late December, the agency said virtual, augmented and mixed reality provides a safer means for trainees to be fully immersed in areas where they might one day be sent on assignment but that are too dangerous to visit for training purposes.
“The risk of traveling overseas is always a main concern when considering the safety of intelligence officers, especially those who have language skills or specialize in regions of high risk,” the notice reads.
“The use of VR for language training would allow these DIA employees to enter a VR scenario in which they, for example, would practice their language skills (e.g., Russian, Chinese, Arabic, etc.) without having to actually travel to these high-risk environments. By using VR as a language training tool, DIA can offer its officers an immersive language experiences while also maintaining their safety.”
These scenarios will be relevant to the curricula in multiple languages and could help improve language learning and cultural sensitivity. The potential contractor will initially develop scenarios in Russian with Chinese and Egyptian Arabic as options.
Additionally, the contractor must develop an environment that includes interaction in a large apartment, a small grocery store, a café, a small park with vendor kiosks, community markets, realistic historical locations and a 4x4 block section of a city environment.
In-country immersions will also have to be incorporated. The user will face situations that include social pressures such as making friends, avoiding embarrassment or offending others, as well as real-world noise, such as background conversations or street sounds, exposure to a variety of accents and slang. The agency’s hope is that users will get a better understanding of the stress of the situation and the experience of being bombarded by foreign language at speed.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.