Iraqi translator helps Marines break language barrier

2 Oct 2004 | Cpl. Joel A. Chaverri

Communicating in a foreign country can be a challenge for those who don't know the native language.

Marines here are frequently coming into contact with native Arabic speakers and because it is not always possible to have a translator nearby, it is imperative that they are able to converse with them without assistance.

That's why a local Iraqi translator made the decision to host Arabic classes for military personnel based here.

Responsible for creating and instructing the language classes is Bushra R. Khaliel, affectionately known as "Miss Emma" to many around the air base.

Possessing a degree in English literature from Al Mustanserra University in her hometown of Baghdad, Iraq, the language instructor has worked here as a translator for more than a year.

"I would translate all over base whenever anyone needed it," said the 36-year-old. "Not everyone knows the (Arabic) language and they needed help."

According to Khaliel, a lot of the troops here had a desire to learn Arabic and would ask her to learn new words.

"The soldiers would ask me how to say something and I would tell them," she said. "I saw the need for a class and decided to start giving them."

Many of the military personnel who attend her class have been impressed with her natural ability to teach the subject.

"Miss Emma is a great teacher," said 33-year-old Ardmore, Okla., native Maj. Braden Hisey, intelligence officer, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. "She can take a difficult subject and turn it into something easy to learn."

Having studied many languages, Hisey believes that it's extremely important one learn the language of their surroundings.

"It can give you a much better understanding of what's going on around you," said Hisey. "It also keeps you from being the "dumb American."

Taking place four nights a week, the class is separated into sections for beginner and advanced students.

"I've really enjoyed being able to take theses classes," said Millville, N.J., native Staff Sgt. Michael D. Schenck, logistics chief, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. "Even though it's only a few nights a week, I've still learned a lot."

A reservist, Schenck teaches high school history and as a Marine, specializes in field artillery.

"When I got out here I was put in the civil affairs field," said the 27-year-old. "I work with Arabic-speaking people all the time and learning the language makes my job a whole lot easier."

Being able to speak to the local nationals on base brings about a whole new level of respect between the two cultures that may not be gained otherwise.

"It really smoothes relationships with the Iraqis," said Schenck. "They really appreciate that we're trying to learn their language and it helps us forge strong bonds."

"I can tell that the people are happy when (the troops) can speak to them in Arabic," added Khaliel. "I'm glad that the students have been so eager to learn."

Although teaching the classes has become a big job for her, it is one Khaliel loves to do.

"I enjoy teaching theses classes so much," she expressed. "I really hope that I've helped (my students) a lot."