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 people today in the United States of America speak yet another language, other than English, at dwelling. Though 78 % of Americans speak only 1 language, this can make factors challenging for them abroad. The stories of these who can speak more languages, and how they discovered it, can typically be as exciting 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 prior to enrolling in college and the Army National Guard.

Bartkaitis says he speaks fluent Lithuanian and English, but also grew up being aware of Russian as properly.

“In Lithuania, the Russian language is really popular as properly,” Bartkaitis stated. “I want to say I’m fluent in Russian I would say I realize it and can speak it to a fourth-grade level, due to the fact I’m struggling to retain up that language ability.”

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 soon after Globe War II.

“They [Lithuania] had a really historical occasion referred to as the Russification,” Bartkaitis stated.

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 type of cultural assimilation in which non-Russians, whether or not 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 due to the fact we had to deal with the entire circumstance of Russia attempting to get rid of our language and obtaining to do underground schools, books, smuggling and all that to retain the language alive,” stated Bartkaitis.

Bartkaitis stated although the Soviet Union collapsed at the finish of 1991, several of his relatives nevertheless spoke Russian and it was made use of in several 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 people today,” Bartkaitis stated.

Bartkaitis noted the similarities involving his selecting up of Russian and the Soldiers he is at the moment serving with in Kosovo, understanding up Albanian.

“It was type of the very same circumstance in particular when you went into a restaurant. They would have Lithuanian written and Russian written ideal underneath, or the street indicators would have Lithuanian written on top rated and Russian beneath it, so it was a really speedy way to choose up factors,” Bartkaitis stated.

Cultural immersion is yet another way to understand a language. When a individual is engaged in a culture, they have the possibilities to choose up the language and realize it. Bartkaitis stated 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 extra of the culture exactly where the language came from and the culture puts you in a superior viewpoint [to learn] how people today reside in a distinctive aspect of the globe,” stated Bartkaitis.

U.S. Army Sgt. Logan Babcock agreed that cultural immersion is a terrific way to understand yet another language.

A Soldier with the Headquarters and Headquarters Business, 76th IBCT, Indiana Army National Guard, deployed to Kosovo, Babcock studied at Indiana University and enrolled in the Turkish Flagship system. This system was distinctive from most due to the fact the students would meet with a native speaker twice a week, conduct 1-on-1 conversations and the speaker would also support them study. He also stated 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 time and two semesters abroad at Baku Language University, in Baku, Azerbaijan,” Babcock stated.

Traveling to Azerbaijan, Babcock continued his system there. He nevertheless stayed with households who had been from Turkey, but lived and worked in Azerbaijan.

“It was a distinctive challenge of not only attempting to understand Turkish abroad, but also attempting to understand Turkish in a nation exactly where Turkish is not necessarily the dominant language,” Babcock stated.

Babcock was drawn to understanding Turkish and had usually related it with the Ottoman Empire becoming the bridge involving the East and West in Asia and Europe. He also stated the Turkish language utilizes the Latin alphabet, which was an desirable function of the language.

Babcock has made use of 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 a number of conversations in Turkish with some of the locals.

“I believe they anticipated that we would all speak English to them, so it was cool I could speak to them in Turkish,” Babcock stated.

Kosovo Force hosts a contingency of Turkish Soldiers and Babcock made use of that as an chance to practice his more ability.

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

He stated the Turkish Soldiers are typically taken aback at his capacity to speak Turkish with them.

“It’s a much 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 stated.

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 distinctive path.

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

Prior to leaving for simple education, Steelman had the chance to take the Defense Language Aptitude Battery, which evaluates how properly a native English speaker can understand a new language. Inquiries on the test variety from deciding on words that have distinctive sounds and applying simple grammar guidelines to created-up words. Primarily based on their benefits, applicants are divided into 4 categories by difficulty to understand. Steelman’s scores placed him in the Category III language: Farsi.

Category I is thought of 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, obtaining 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 understanding.

Soon after simple education at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Steelman was sent to the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, Calif. for 48 weeks to understand 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 stated, when asked what the education was like. “It was eight hours a day of understanding 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 stated the course began with sound and script for the initial two weeks, understanding the alphabet, the sounds of the language and how to create the script. He stated even in the starting, the students had been expected to understand 30 new words a day. Soon after the initial two weeks, the students went subject by subject starting with loved ones, meals, areas of interest.

“There was speaking practice at the finish of the day exactly where we participated in created-up scenarios,” Steelman stated.

“Through two thirds of the course, 1 hour every single day was devoted to a new grammar point and towards the finish, the subjects got a tiny extra 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 nevertheless keeps up with this Farsi on the other hand he can.

“I have a Farsi Bible that I study occasionally,” Steelman stated. “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 people with loved ones who speak yet another language, or, in the case of U.S.Army Spc. Tristan Reed, cannot speak at all.

Reed is Combat Engineer, and also a member Headquarters and Headquarters Business, 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) due to the fact her parents had been deaf.

“I would usually go and hang out with them nearly each other weekend or each weekend and it just intrigued me to understand extra about sign language,” Reed stated.

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 stated he saw this as an chance to understand extra and be in a position to surprise his aunt with his information.

“I was really intrigued on understanding how it all worked and just understanding extra about sign language,” Reed stated, as he knew absolutely nothing of the culture prior to the class.

Discovering the World through Languages: Deployed Soldiers’ Stories

Spc. Tristan Reed (left) shows Spc. Connor Templeton (ideal), each from the Headquarters and Headquarters Business, 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 understanding any new language, the class began with the alphabet and greetings, prior to moving on to presentations on signing and finding hands-on practice. Reed stated each year the class would place on a concert in sign language for the duration of Christmas time.

“I bear in mind 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,” stated Reed.

Reed nevertheless made use of his expertise outdoors of college when he worked in the regional hospital’s cafeteria. He stated the nurses knew he could sign and would ask him to support communicate with sufferers.

“Most nurses would know yet another language or they would have some variety of translator, but they had no 1 for sign language,” Reed stated.

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

“The easy truth is when you ‘speak’ in sign language, you have to use expressions and feelings, otherwise the context is lost,” Reed stated.

Reed, along with Bartkaitis, Babcock and Steelman, all agree that being aware of a second language is invaluable. Though becoming in a position to communicate in yet another language is beneficial, it is the understanding and appreciation of yet another culture that tends to make the struggle to understand worthwhile.

“It provides us a distinctive viewpoint of life general,” Bartkaitis stated.

He stated he knows it is no simple process to understand yet another language, but with every single language a individual learns, the extra about the culture they can realize.

Steelman stated being aware of yet another language aids expand your horizons and realize distinctive views.

“I believe it also gives a deeper appear into other cultures,” Steelman stated. “I discovered a lot about it is [Farsi’s] people today, about how they view the globe, their viewpoint on every thing, and I believe the language definitely aids with that.”

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