AMA: I graduated the Defense Language Institute for Russian

From 2011-2012 I was a student at DLI in Monterey, CA, where I learned Russian in (a very stressful) 11 months. I graduated with a DLPT 2+/2/2 and would eventually test up to 3/3 before finishing my time in the Navy in 2016. Ive since continued my studies and have started trying other languages as well.

If you have any questions about what its like to attend (likely) the most intensive language learning school in the world, or are considering a career as a linguist in the DoD, I'll be happy to answer.

Im very happy to have found Duolingo and its nice to interact with other language enthusiasts.

August 30, 2019


Why didn't you write this message in Russian?

August 30, 2019

Anyone attending the DLI is most likely American and not a native Russian speaker.

August 30, 2019

I want to learn Russian (Air force).

What path did you take (enlistment,ROTC,academy)?

Did you know any Russian before going through the immersion class?

I may have more questions, but I can't think of any right now.

August 30, 2019

I was Navy and enlisted. But regardless, you will be in class with all branches of the military which will all be managed by an MLI (who could also be from another branch, mine was Navy as well).

You will tell your recruiter you want to learn a language, and you will be taken somewhere local to take the DLAB (Defense Language Aptitude Battery) test. It uses a made up language to assess your ability to learn language, and if you score high enough on it you may qualify for some of the 'harder' languages like Russian or Chinese.

I do NOT know if the Air Force will let you choose your preferred language, or if they will assign you one based on the needs of the Air Force. My friend and I both scored within a point of each other and could do any language. The Navy initially assigned me Chinese and he Russian, but it was simply a matter of talking to our Chief during holding at Monterey and she was able to switch languages (he wanted to go to Hawaii, I didnt want to learn Chinese). But I would not count on luck to get the language you want and I would talk to your recruiter about what kind of language billets are available.

I did not know any russian beyond the alphabet and some basics that I crammed in beforehand using LingQ. There ARE some primer classes they will likely have you do before your class starts because youre basically killing time during that period.

August 31, 2019


August 31, 2019

Yes, in the US Air Force, Russian should be one of the main courses of study. You can already start. :)

August 31, 2019

I envy you.

August 31, 2019

It was a nightmare at the time, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat for another language.

August 31, 2019

For languages like Russian and Chinese, is a DLI approach still necessary? There are so many resources online now, way beyond Duolingo.

Maybe it's needed for languages like Dari with not much internet presence. But for the major languages, maybe you guys should just pay recruits a stipend to study at home full time for a year or two in advance before reporting for service.

A classroom setting is usually a very poor way to learn a language.

August 31, 2019

In my experience a classroom setting with a lot of homework and tests is the best way to learn structures. Immersion will then teach you vocabulary and prosody and the combination of the two will make you really fluent.

August 31, 2019

Nothing compares. Nothing puts the kind of pressure/leverage on you.

All of my teachers were native Russian/Ukrainians with doctorates and decades of teaching (one of those 'the best a money can buy') things, with at most a 6:1 student ratio per class. 7 classes a day, each an hour long, plus hours of homework. My head teacher assigned no less than 3 hours of homework a night, and that sounds like a gross exaggeration, but it was a nightmare that led to some cooperative...assistance between each other to get the homework done faster. Then after school hour long 1 on 1 classes, typically focused on speech.

The idea is non stop applied pressure thats way beyond your comfort zone and not immersion. Obviously at the time I hated it and DLI is extremely stressful, but theres no way to make yourself do that on your own. There where plenty of people who bailed out/failed out intentionally to escape it, it was miserable.

You do 100-120 words every 2.5 days, with new grammar content in each cycle, you do a few cycles and then test on it. Then immediately on to the next chapter, theres no respite. But its all administered by ridiculously educated native speakers in a focused environment, which is why its so effective.

August 31, 2019

Nothing supernatural, ordinary education in Soviet schools with a bias on a foreign language. And as you said, a lesson; homework; consolidation (repetition), practice; new lesson and so on. No more than 8 children per class. Plus history, geography or literature is also in a foreign language. One nuance, if you do not practice the language, it can rust. Even your native language. :)

September 1, 2019
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