The Indian Army’s notification inviting applications from persons fluent in Mandarin to properly communicate with the Chinese military along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is a beginning in fulfilling a decades-longstanding important requirement.
At the Corps Commander level talks, which since China’s second major aggression in May 2020 onwards have lasted up to sixteen hours, flag meetings, joint exercises, border personnel meetings and other exchanges there has never been an absolute certainty about whether the interpreter conveyed our statement and translated the Chinese statement effectively.
The Army’s notification in July ’22 which aims to fill vacancies in the Territorial Army for Mandarin language experts, invites applications for six vacancies, which will include five civilian candidates and one Ex-Service officer. The move will increase the number of Mandarin speakers and offer courses in Tibetology for officers posted along LAC to orient them in Tibetan culture and practices.
The need for mandarin
The School of Foreign Languages (SFL) was established by the Defence Ministry in 1948 with the purpose of imparting training in different foreign languages to the personnel of Armed Forces and Government Departments such as the MEA, the Cabinet Secretariat, Central Police Organizations viz. BSF, CRPF, ITBP, etc. Government granted permanent status to the SFL in 1954. However, on 04 May 2017, the functional and administrative control of SFL was transferred from a Joint Secretary of the Defence Ministry to HQ Integrated Defence Staff.
The role of SFL is to meet the growing requirements of the Government in general and Armed Forces in particular, for qualified foreign language experts. The SFL is mandated to conduct Interpreter and other courses in Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Tibetan, Persian, Sinhala, German, French, Spanish, Bahasha Indonesia, Japanese and Burmese. However, due to non-availability of certain permanent faculty, interpreter courses are presently being conducted only in Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Persian, Tibetan and Sinhala.
Reportedly, inadequate faculty strength at SFL often resulted in soldiers learning Chinese, considered to be the toughest language to pick up, but forgetting it by the time they were posted along the LAC.
While various courses are being run at Northern, Eastern and Central Commands and vacancies at army training schools at Pachmarhi and SFL have been increased, the Army has signed Memorandum of Understanding with Rashtriya Raksha University, Central University of Gujarat, Shiv Nadar University for Mandarin courses. Tests are also being conducted at Langma School of Languages, New Delhi.
In November 2020, an end-to-end voice translation system using Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), Machine Translation and Speech-to-Text to convert Mandarin to English designed to help armed forces, intelligence agencies and local law enforcement authorities in improving communication systems and giving substantial leeway to the Indian defence forces was introduced. Gnani.ai, a global frontrunner in Conversational AI announced the launch of this new integrated Speech Recognition based solution for the Indian defence establishment.
The solution has a wide range of applications that includes cross border intelligence, voice surveillance, monitoring telephone/internet conversations, intercepting radio/satellite communication and to bridge interactions during border meetings & joint exercises. Its unique features include noise reduction, dialect/accent detection and support for all audio file formats. This system is expected to be an asset for the armed forces deployed against China and intelligence agencies, as it will make it possible for them to understand what is being communicated by the Chinese to each other and conversely a disadvantage to the Chinese, who may have to overcome it by further encryption of their communication.
The solution has a wide range of applications that includes cross border intelligence, voice surveillance, monitoring telephone/internet conversations, intercepting radio/satellite communication and to bridge interactions during border meetings & joint exercises.
In the process of strengthening the existing system two issues that are required to be addressed are training of a few talents in native environments to ensure quality and outreach by training personnel in location. Both these measures will enhance quality, identify talent for higher training and create volume for operational readiness. The foremost problem has been inconsistent policy promulgation, which must be avoided in future.
In China and India: Dialogue of Civilisations, co-authored by Professor Yu Longyu and Liu Chaohua (Pentagon) and translated from Chinese to English by Professor B. R. Deepak, Chinese scholarship has picked up works written not only in Sanskrit and Hindi, but also in Bengali, Tamil, Urdu and English.
In addition to achieving fluency, studies on Chinese must be enhanced in universities and think tanks.