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NEWS | Aug. 4, 2021

Sharing the Culture of Language

By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Justin Stumberg

Home to over one billion residents, Africa presents some of the highest linguistic diversity in the world.

This language mosaic stretches from the Afroasiatic linguistic groups in North Africa to the Horn, to the Niger-Congo languages in West, Central, and Southeast Africa, to the Indo-European language groups on the Southern tip of the continent. 

For Cutlass Express 2021, that constitutes dozens of languages from participating countries: Comoros, Djibouti, Georgia, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Which underscores the value of effective, multifaceted translators like Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Marcelin Aggossou who helps navigate both language and cultural barriers between partner nations.

“Being an interpreter is not only knowing the language but also knowing the technical terms,” said Aggossou. “Its hard to take someone who doesn’t have the background or doesn’t have the right word.”

Originally from the West African nation of Benin, the French-speaking Aggossou is a Reservist currently assigned to Navy Reserve Detachment 118. He was the perfect choice to help support CE21 because, as a native French speaker, he could help countries like Djibouti and Comoros connect through all aspects of the maritime exercise.

“It’s easier being a native French speaker and very difficult to translate word by word if you learned the language second hand,” said Aggossou. “It’s a combination of knowing the subjects, having a good memory, and being fluent in the language.”

Multinational exercises pose complex intercultural challenges as participants collaborate in the interest of common shared goals within maritime rule of law, counter-proliferation interdiction, and regional stabilization in East Africa. For Sailors like Aggossou, it’s the understanding of the value of his contribution to these common goals that fulfills him with the knowledge that he is making a difference.

“I have the satisfaction knowing that I’m doing something that’s helping other partners to learn what’s going on,” said Aggossou. “Especially those who speak French. I feel helpful and it makes me happy to feel helpful.”

But translating isn’t as easy as a directly converting one language to another said Aggossou. A lot of the value of an interpreter is enhancing communication by building a bridge between concepts and their target language and culture.

One of the more challenging concepts discussed during CE21 was maritime jurisdiction within the international rule of law class taught by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Law of Sea expert Tiago Zanella. Zanella willingly admits to the complexities of international rule of law when you begin to consider the – at times conflicted - details of  international agreements. That’s where translators like Aggossou really shine as they help communicate both understanding and meaning.

“Many of the Djiboutian Coast Guardsman I was working with understood what Zanella was talking about but there were still questions about how it applied directly to them,” said Aggossou. “I was able to help facilitate conversation between the instructor and class to help make sure people felt comfortable with the material.”

And for Aggossou, being able to play a vital role in supporting exercise participants’ growth is one of the reasons why he is so pleased to support the exercise.

“It’s really important supporting African nations, training them so together we can work as partners,” said Aggossou.  “We can combat human trafficking, human smuggling, illegal drugs, and other criminal activities.”

CE 21 is one of three African regional “Express” series exercises sponsored by U.S. Africa Command and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF), U.S. Sixth Fleet (C6F) undertaken to provide African forces and international partners with collaborative opportunities on comprehensive maritime security concerns.

NAVEUR-NAVAF-C6F, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.