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Many people confuse the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) and the Defense Language Institute (DLI). Some people think they are one in the same organization, others think that one controls the other, and few seem to realize that they are separate entities, despite being located a few blocks from each other in Old Monterey on the Monterey Peninsula in California.

DLI is a military installation where members of all four branches of the U.S. armed forces are taught languages for roughly one year. MIIS is a private graduate school that offers M.A. degrees in translation and interpretation (T&I), international policy studies (IPS), teaching English to foreigners, teaching foreign languages to English speakers, and an MBA.

There are no official ties between the two. MIIS is not a secret military training facility, nor it is controlled by the CIA, NSA, or FBI, and DLI is not an outgrowth or branch campus of MIIS. They are separate entities providing different types of education to a different student population.

How do I know this? I'm a MIIS graduate, and lived in Monterey for 11 years. My next-door neighbor was a DLI student, then instructor, several friends of mine have taught at DLI or MIIS, or in some cases both. I have taught at MIIS (but not DLI), and most important, I have listened to hundreds of people talk about both institutions based on experiences they had there in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. I am rather well informed, in other words.

Now the interesting part: MIIS's T&I (translation and interpretation) is arguably the best in the Western hemisphere. It has only one possible competitor, Kent State University, a program that is outstanding in many ways but does not cover as many languages (it's missing Chinese, Korean, and as of 2008, Arabic), and does relatively little in the way of interpreter training. Translators may do better at Kent State, but overall MIIS is probably the better school. Either way, it's among the very best, which is reflected in its student body, who for the most part have outstanding language skills in at least two, and sometimes as many as six languages.

So what do MIIS students think of DLI students? Not much, according to many I've talked to in the past ten years. DLI students are beginners: they have just started to process of learning their new language, and even after their training program, their skills in insufficient for anything more than chitchat, travel, and other such general communication skills. Remember, it takes all of us almost 20 years to achieve adult-level proficiency in our native language. So one year at DLI is just not going to produce that much. And MIIS students notice it, chuckle about it, are sometimes snide or snobby about it, and for the most part recognize that the DLI folks are beginners, just as the MIIS students once were.

To put this in concrete terms that the government itself developed and uses, the average DLI student is a 2+ or 3- in terms of language proficiency on graduation day, while the an incoming MIIS student for translation or interpretation must be at least a 4 to even start the program. There is between three and ten years of training and experience between a 3 and a 4, and that is for the handful of people who can develop their second-language skills that far.

So DLI and MIIS are separate entities on separate missions. They are often mentioned in the same breath in the news, since MIIS has a few think tanks that study the War on Terror, and DLI is where the military's language personnel are being trained. But while DLI takes beginners and creates intermediate or advanced students of a language, MIIS takes people who are already all but fully proficient in their second and third languages and creates professional translators or interpreters.

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