An Army linguist was engaged in every range movement, daily brief or engagement with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) on Exercise Southern Jackaroo. 

One of six linguists attached to the JGSDF for the exercise, it was the first time Lance Corporal Cameron Murdoch had been tasked to use his linguistic skills.

Despite completing a 12-month course at the School of Languages and a four-month study tour of Japan, the 1 Combat Engineer Regiment combat engineer said it took years to become proficient in Japanese, rated among the more difficult languages to learn.

“World over, a soldier is a soldier,” Lance Corporal  Murdoch said.

“We all say the same things and work with reasonably the same equipment — a rifle is a rifle — the difficult stuff is the specific terminology, like the difference between training and exercise.

“The word I know for ‘exercise’ means physical work, like PT. If you start talking about PT in the Northern Territory heat, they will think you’re mad.”

Lance Corporal Murdoch secured a Japanese course at the Defence Force School of Languages after completing a military language aptitude test. 

Classes were limited to 10 students with four tutors, which included native speakers and Defence personnel. He was tested on key skills and expected to achieve at least a 1+ level to pass.

A component consisted of in-country training, giving students a first-hand look at Japanese culture.

“We did half a week in Tokyo and 10 days at a home stay,” Lance Corporal Murdoch said.

“I was living with an older couple and my Japanese still wasn’t great.

“Eating food that was cooked by my home stay mum and getting around the city like a local was a crazy experience.”

Lance Corporal Murdoch returned to Japan when selected for four months of advanced language study, attending a civilian school four hours a day, with the afternoons and weekends free.  

“We were encouraged to get out and interact with the locals, experience their culture and naturally practise the things we were learning,” he said. 

There are about 20 Japanese linguists in Army, all required to re-certify to ensure they maintain their skill level.