So, there I was. 1980. Defense Language Institute, Presidio of Monterey, California. Basic Korean Course. (For “listeners”, AKA "geeks"; they had a separate course at the time for interrogators, AKA “rubber hosers.”)
Now, the recruiters had taken one look at my test scores and decided I should take the Defense Language Aptitude Battery, or DLAB. I had not done so well in Spanish classes in school, but they insisted, so I went ahead.
When I walked out of the room I felt like my brains were running out of my ears.
There were multiple portions to the test. One checked for general knowledge of foreign languages; I recall one where the sentence said “le poisson est sur la table”, and you had to select the correct drawing, which variously featured a fish and a bottle of poison on, under, and beside a table.
Another section used English vocabulary, but made-up grammar. As I recall, it actually was similar to what I would be learning in Korean: “The boy went to the store” might be rendered “’Boy-ga’ ‘store-ay’ ‘go-ed’”; The “ga” suffix attached to “boy” indicates the subject of the sentence, and the “ay” suffix on “store” indicates his destination. The verb comes at the end of the sentence, and instead of using “went” you use “go” with a past tense indicator. Both the test and the Korean language were/are a lot more complicated than that. As I recall, by the end of that section of the test we were reading paragraphs and answering (trying to answer) questions about who did what to whom.
Like I said, I felt like my brains were running out my ears when I finished, and I was convinced that I wasn’t even qualified to speak English, but apparently, I did very well. Only one other person took the test that day, and she didn’t fare so well.
So they asked me what language I wanted to study, and I said “German”, and they told me I would have to wait a year. I looked at the chart of Enlistment Bonuses again, and said “Russian”, and it had a six month waiting period. The only other language with a maximum enlistment bonus was Korean, and they said I could leave anytime.
Which I suppose should have been a warning, but I didn’t think of that…
So, anyway, my roommate at DLI was what used to be called a “retread”; he had been a Vietnamese linguist, got out, tried college, decided he wasn’t cut out for academia, and went back in, for Korean this time, as there was little demand for Vietnamese by this time. Also, Vietnamese is a tonal language, which many Westerners have a hard time wrapping their brains around. (I know it caused me fits, just learning the few phrases of Chinese and Vietnamese I had to learn, in order to recognize what language to notify whomever of.)
He had some stories, though…
One of them involved a classmate that freaked out in the middle of a “number drill”, threw off his headphones, and jumped out a window yelling “I am an adverb, I am an adverb!”
Fast forward 38 years (holy cow!) and I’ve decided it’s time to upgrade my amateur radio license. (I know, smooth segue.)
Background: In the US there are three levels of amateur radio license, Technician, General, and Amateur Extra, or “AE”. There is no longer a requirement for a Morse Code (or “CW”) test/qualification.
Now, it used to be that you had to travel to the Big City and take the test from a Federal Communications Commission tester; back in the early ‘80s, though, in the face of budget cuts, the FCC turned the task of testing prospective hams over to “Volunteer Examiners”, or “VEs”, who would be certified by “Volunteer Examiner Coordinators” (VECs). There about 15 or so VECs, the largest of which is the American Radio Relay League.
The VECs get together periodically to devise a question pools for each level; each exam and question pool is good for about 4 years, but they are staggered.
Also, the question and answer pool is public, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request. That may sound fishy, but the Amateur Extra question pool has something like 750 questions, so…
As you probably expect, the Technician test is easiest, the General a little harder, and the Amateur Extra exam hardest. For me, the Tech exam was pretty easy, involving (for me) mostly regulations and operating procedures. There was no math, and the radio theory and safety issues had been covered in the course of my Army training.
The General exam adds electronic theory and components, and some math, and the Amateur Extra adds even more of both.
A lot more.
As in, I felt like my brains were running out my ears, in case you were wondering where this was going...
Publicly available question pool or not, there were questions about concepts I never even heard of, let alone was able to grasp.
Yes, there are classes. These classes come in two flavors: One tries to teach you all the material, which is a laudable goal, but can take months. The other is more of a test review, and for the General and (especially) the Amateur Extra you need to study on your own. (There are many online exam study review/practice exams. I like HamStudy.org.)
Lots of folks these days get their Technician “ticket” and stop there. Technician gets you operating privileges that include the bands that are readily available in handheld and mobile radios operating in the Very High Frequency bands, which take advantage of local repeaters, and are of most utility for local emergency or community service operations, not to mention letting folks at home know you’re on your way… or are stuck in traffic.
An Amateur General ticket will get you access to a wide array of operating privileges in the High Frequency bands, and will allow you to communicate anywhere in the world, given a good antenna and decent operating conditions.
Amateur Extra adds a few more operating privileges, but frankly, a lot of hams stop at General, as offering the biggest “bang for the buck.” Part of the reason I decided to upgrade to AE is that I wanted to get certified as a VE, and you have to be an AE to VE for the AE exam. (Yes, ham radio is as big on acronyms as the Army is…)
So, anyway, thanks in part to HamStudy.org, I passed the test, and am waiting to receive my VE credentials.
No ear-running brains involved.