How Do You Talk to Afghans Without an Interpreter?

This appears to be a question being asked by DND, via this posted tender on MERX:

“This requirement is for the Department of National Defence (DND) to procure a portable Voice Response Translators (VRT). This device provides soldiers the capability to communicate basis (sic.) commands and phrases allowing them to conduct tasks proficient manner in the Contemporary Operating Environment and Future Security Environment.”

A little more, from the Statement of Work portion of the bid package (PDF downloadable from here):

“Experience in Afghanistan indicates that the language barrier between Canadian troops and Local Nationals (LN) can result in significant challenges that are extremely difficult to work around.  As a result there is a need for soldiers to have the ability to communicate with LN in their native languages.  This need is most acute when the services of a local translator are not available to unable (sic.) the task at hand.  A VRT will provide soldiers the capability to communicate basic commands and phrases, allowing them to conduct tasks in a more proficient manner.”

The most intriguing part of the bid package is the annex containing eleven pages of phrases the machinery has to be able to translate.  In addition to the usual commands for running a shooting range, giving orders to troops during operations and asking about medical conditions, here’s a few examples (apparently given in a “CF person says into machine – machine reads out” format):

“Begin Directing”: “I’m speaking to you through a device that translates select phrases into your language.  When I ask questions, please hold up one finger for yes, and two fingers for no.”

“Elite Forces”: “Attention!  Attention!  Attention!  You are surrounded by elite Government Forces.  Abandon your weapons, move out of the building into the open with your hands over your head and remain standing until secured by a Government soldier.  Do this and you will not be harmed.”

“No looting”: “Do not take anything from this house/vehicle or you will be punished.”

Apart from the typos (in red above, as well as this one):

Diffuse detonate?”: “Will the bomb detonate if we attempt to diffuse it?” (I think they may have meant “defuse”)

an interesting concept.  Two points come to mind for me:

1) I’d love to hear from anyone regarding whether 310 of these units (if the winning contractor fulfills the entire contract in this bid) would be enough.

2)  Why has it taken this long to get this sort of thing considered and bought?


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