Friday, October 07, 2005

Is This Good News Or Bad?

The Intelligence community is having trouble finding enough Arabic speaking people to do all the translation they need:

Four years into the war on terrorism, the intelligence community admits it is still short of fluent speakers of critical languages, particularly Arabic.

Until the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the government didn't consider Arabic language skills a national security concern. Now officials are encountering myriad obstacles in trying to close the gap rapidly.

Arabic differs greatly from English and other Western languages. Arabic reads from right to left. One letter may take on three or four shapes, depending on where it appears in a word, and it has more than 20 dialects. Attaining the proficiency required by the government can take nearly four times longer than learning Spanish or French.

Many people who already knew Arabic were hired by the government and private-sector companies in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, but the government is seeking to hire thousands more such translators.

With that in mind, the government on Thursday opened a new facility at the University of Maryland's Center for Advanced Study of Language to find innovative ways of producing more Arabic speakers quickly.

CIA Director Porter Goss gave the introductory speech, lending a sort of imprimatur to the government's quest.

"I'm glad to be a small part in something that is a very, very big problem for me," Goss said.

While the facility will not offer language instruction, researchers will examine ways to speed up the learning process.

"The government is investing significant resources in training in Arabic," said Richard Brecht, the center's executive director. "But we need major breakthroughs to cut the time it takes to learn Arabic. We need major cognitive research."

Well, let's see. We have no shortage of Arabic speaking people in the United States, so why is it that we can't find Arabic to English translators? You have to wonder if maybe it's good news that the CIA can't find people they deem trustworthy to do this important work.