Advice from the wise: don’t cram on the test

By Natela Cutter

CSM Donehue with students.

MONTEREY, Calif. – Every Tuesday morning, Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Donehue heads for the Tin Barn, a 1950s building on the Presidio of Monterey, where new students in-process and start the first day of their journey to becoming military linguists by mastering one of the 17 languages taught at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center.

“If there is one thing I want you to remember, and there are many, you have to know that you can’t cram on the tests here,” said Donehue, to an incoming group of students from all four branches of the service. “I have gone through DLI three times, and know a few things,” he said to the group of about 30 incoming students ranging from recent high school graduates to seasoned officers.

With service members coming in every Tuesday to begin their 36 to 64 week course in a foreign language, and graduation that takes place every Thursday, Donehue has a tough job of looking at the requirements in the field, assessing what is happening with the academic teaching side, and making sure that all elements work together to produce service members ready and capable of providing critical information to their commanders for national security needs.

“I understand the unique role which a linguist plays in providing intelligence.  This capability requires a lot of hard work and dedication while studying at DLI, and more importantly, they must embrace the concept of being a life-long learner of the language,” said Donehue in a separate interview.

As an Arabic and Persian Farsi linguist, Donehue has a habit of poking around the eight schools situated on the Presidio. Often times he will go sit in a class, observe the instruction, talk with the students and instructors, and ask questions on how to improve the learning process.

“He is a linguist at heart,” said Sgt. Maj. James Southern, who assists the Provost academic/military issues and runs the Military Language Instructor program. “He is very interested in improving the quality of instruction and teacher readiness.”

“The schools are where the rubber meets the road.  This is where I can observe the pillars of success; students, curriculum and faculty.  I love to see students learn and teachers teach.  Since arriving to DLI, I’ve observed amazing students and teachers excelling in language acquisition and language instruction,” said Donehue, adding that his observations allow him to better advise the DLIFLC commandant.

On the ground since June 1, Donehue reports that he is still getting a feel for what type of improvements he would like to implement at DLIFLC in order to reach the institute’s goal of graduating students at higher rates of proficiency.

“At this point, I’m still in the understand phase of initiatives DLI has taken to get to 2+/2+/2.  For me personally, I’m looking to see which initiatives are most effective in reaching our goals. For our students, getting started with the right frame of mind is imperative. This is one of the most difficult academic schools in the military,” Donehue stated.

For students coming to the Joint Service In-Processing Briefing on Tuesdays, Donehue strives to teach them that they not only need to learn the language, but that they also need to have “a desire to become experts in the culture, history, politics, and people of their target language… I always tell students they must be a 3/3 on the people and culture of their language in English. It is incumbent that our Service members take the initiative by studying about the history and people of their target language on their own.”

Posted Date: 20 September 2018