English Language Labs: How to tips

CITTA 2 US English language lab 2

What is the purpose of your English language training program? Do you have an actual training program or just a laboratory that was set up several years ago that has no direct link to a reduction in required training before attending International Military Education and Training (IMET) courses? The purpose of this blog is to discuss areas for an AFRICA OSC to improve their English language training program, potential areas to avoid when ordering new materials, and some helpful tips overall.

English Language Training Program Mission

“From the point of view of US national interests, the mission of an in-country English Language Training Program (ELTP) is to produce a sufficient number of English language-qualified personnel to support US Security Cooperation objectives. Effective in-country ELTPs are a vital link in the Security Cooperation chain. The English language-qualified personnel produced by in-country ELTPs are essential to the success of US arms sales and transfers because they are the individuals who are trained, frequently in CONUS, to maintain and operate the weapon systems received from the US. The in-country ELTPs also serve as a pipeline for students in transition to US military technical schools or Professional Military Education (PME). Therefore, the goal of an in-country ELTP is to train a student to the level of English language proficiency required for technical training or PME as measured by the ECL test.” (DLIELC Handbook)


The best handbook for your English Language Training Program (ELTP) is “DLIELC English Language Training Support for Security Cooperation Organizations FY18” http://www.dlielc.edu/prod/SCO_Handbook.pdf.

DLIELC’s catalog is something you should also familiarize yourself with http://www.dlielc.edu/prod/Catalog.pdf

The best article I have ever read concerning English language laboratories was written by Thomas Molloy of the Defense Language Institute English Language Center titled “Why Some In-Country English Language Training Programs Do Not Work:
What Every Security Assistance Training Officer Should Know.” http://www.disam.dsca.mil/pubs/V24-4%20PDF%20Files%20By%20Author/Molloy,%20Thomas.pdf

He also wrote “Projecting Soft Power Through English Language Training” http://www.disam.dsca.mil/pubs/Vol%2028_3/Molloy.pdf.

This blog will not try to recreate nor summarize the guidance in these articles and handbooks. I think every AFRICA OSC should put these three on their reading list.

Partner buy-in and support

The most significant point of success or average accomplishment level of an ELTP in Africa is partner buy-in. If the partner nation does not contribute to the program fiscally, then it is unlikely to accomplish the intended goals. If you are having issues with your ELTP and you identify partner buy-in as the issue it could be one of the following problems: 1) the lead instructor/ELTP Manager; 2) the location of the school; 3) the Commander of the training unit; or 4) the partner nation expects the U.S. to pay for everything. The goal of the ELTP should be self-sufficiency in most countries, but in some, it should be understood that occasional books and upgrades to the computer lab will be required.

The lead instructor/ELTP Manager. English as a second language is a skill, and instructing it takes an even greater ability. More than likely the lead instructor of your ELTP (who can also be the “Manager” of the school) has been around for numerous AFRICA OSCs. If the program is struggling or the partner nation’s military is financially restrained the issue could be with this lead instructor. We’ve all seen businesses in the United States that say “Under New Management,” and there is a reason. The same rationale could apply to your ELTP. If you identify that the manager / lead instructor is the issue, this quickly will become a political/military issue, and you will need to analyze the pros and cons of highlighting this to the partner nation leaders.

The location of the school. One country I visited had their central English laboratory in a city that was 45 minutes away from the national capital, another town had it in the national capital, and one had over ten laboratories spread throughout the country to each major command. Location matters when you take into account the partner nation’s costs of sending a military member to training. Just like our military, they also have to pay TDY expenses, and in Africa with so many other competing priorities TDY expenses are often not available. When establishing a new language laboratory be careful of its location and ensure that enough military members will be able to use it while on TDY or TDY is not a requirement. Try to eliminate the potential for the host nation to move the lab to one place or another based on a “kingdom” building of one officer over another.

The commander of the training unit. Sometimes the partner nation may have several other language training schools: Arabic, French, or Russian. The commander may have limited funds, and their requirements may surge based upon the upcoming needs of their military. Sometimes they may not be pro-American, or went to one of the other language school at their school and favored that program because of their ties to it. Either way, if your plan is struggling, looking into the commander of the training unit the laboratory is underneath is worthwhile. They may not understand the resources the U.S. has or does not have to provide for the English laboratory, or even worse they may not realize it takes around a year to get any supplies from the US. Your Pol/Mil skills will be required here.

The partner nation expects the U.S. to pay for everything. Sometimes the partner nation has taken/received the English language laboratory not because they actually wanted it, but rather because they may think it is a requirement for future IMET slots. This is a difficult situation for both sides involved as the partner nation may not have the funds to sustain the program adequately, and culturally aren’t allowed to admit this reality. After a few years of pumping money into a program, it might be worthwhile just to walk away from it. Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to walk away from supporting it – your partner nation may also be happy about this (although they will never tell you).
Maintaining the laboratory

You may have as many as ten laboratories or as few as one. The size of the program will depend on the size of the partner nation’s military, and it’s buy-in level. However, across all of the laboratories, you will more than likely encounter the same maintenance issues throughout.

Back up discs – if you can when the lab is installed keep a copy of all discs and maintenance manuals in the OSC files. Several years down the road this might come in handy.

Most English language instructors aren’t trained in IT items – there is a 10-day DLIELC course for maintenance, make sure they go to it. Especially if you’ve had the lab for a while and they have changed over instructors.

Don’t be afraid to assign the English language labs as an additional duty for your NCOIC because most of the instructors in your labs may also be NCOs. Make sure your NCO understands what we can and cannot provide for the lab before they get too far into assisting it.

Antivirus- more than likely if the lab has internet it will eventually be used by someone surfing the web and is highly susceptible to viruses, etc. You could take the opportunity for an M2M event with the host nations Signal units on how to properly maintain an English language laboratory. I’m sure they’d also learn skills on how to preserve their host nation’s computer systems.
Potential problems with buildings/structures in Africa

Africa and its environment bring numerous challenges to a structure/building. It could be extreme heat, rain, mold, etc. The point here is when examining a laboratory in Africa, you must take in the physical location of the lab as a potential success or fail point.

Constant electricity: How is the building powered? Does the partner nation have regular power outages or times during the night when the power is turned off? What is the effect of these on the computers in the laboratory? What SOPs can the partner nation implement to counter these issues? Can they power the machines off and unplug them when not in use? Can they buy backup power/surge protectors and install them or can you include those (and double the number of backups) in the original package?

A building without air conditioning is a death warrant for a language lab. You can’t include this in the FMS case, so you’ll have to ensure constant electricity, and make sure the instructor understands that computers don’t work well in hot temperatures. A/C units also filter out a lot of dust etc. that are harmful to computers.

A building without internet is becoming a death warrant for a language lab. More and more the technology of our systems is outpacing the capabilities of our partner nations. This is easily seen in the computer world where rarely will you receive a start-up package for a computer that includes a c/d. Instead, the install book will include an internet site for you to login to. If you don’t have internet in the lab, you won’t be able to update it. Workarounds could be to move computers to a particular site once every two or three months and have the Signal military members update things. You cannot use U.S. funds to buy internet for the partner nation.

110-volt verse 220-volt and plugs: Try to mandate that the computer comes with 220-volt plugs for the partner nation. Everything in the laboratory should be in the power of the partner nation. This also includes any speakers, projectors, smart boards, etc.

Doors and seals: dust, heat, and humidity. Dust, temperature, and moisture are the three enemies of a language lab. Check the actual room of the language room and ensure its doors are adequate for the classroom that is required.
Other tips / Opinions

What is the Soldier’s native tongue? If Arabic keep in mind, he is learning a different alphabet also. Maybe they need more time in training?

One week of English training in the US is around $10k a month. Imagine what you can do with IMET in a non-Anglophone country when you can deduct one month of English language training per IMET attendee. That equates to another IMET course.

5th Quarter IMET funding: Every year there are always extra funds that are either not used by other countries or are “extra.” Every now and then you should think about how you could advocate for these funds and use them to improve your ELTP.

120-day advisory MTT: I’m not a big fan of these as they are incredibly expensive and all the stars must align for them to be useful and worthwhile in the long run.


Your English language program is, and some AFRICA OSCs take it more serious than others. It is Soft Power, and the result of it is partner nation military members who more than likely end up being senior members of their militaries. Most of them are in the room when your Combatant Commander comes into town. Some even are translators. Honestly, the CCMD doesn’t care much about these, but they should. You should care a lot about them and ensure you have a good ELTP manager in place (you or your NCO – not an LES), and think out two to three years of what is needed. Nothing in the English language category happens in 1-year, and few things happen in 2-years. Make a 10-year English language plan and start executing it.

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