Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Cultural Orientations from the Defense Language Institute (DLI)

Cultural Orientations from the Defense Language Institute (DLI) – http://famdliflc.lingnet.org/productList.aspx?v=co

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are home customs like in Nigeria?
  • What are some traditions in Algeria?
  • What is family life like in China?
  • What does Dari sound like?


This set of online training modules from the US military try to familiarize personnel with cultural conditions on the ground. From the website:

“The Cultural Orientations (CO) offer an engaging introduction to a given cultural group. Linguists and non-linguists alike will benefit from these interactive materials and pertinent language exchanges that are coupled with an objective and practical look at daily life in different contexts. Topics include religion, traditions, family life and differences in the lifestyles of urban and rural populations.”

There are literally dozens of cultural orientations available, based more around language and ethnic groups than around countries. The number of “slides” presented varies, but all modules have the structure of Country profile, Religion, Traditions, Urban Life, Rural Life, Family Life, Assessment and Resources (for further reading and study). In addition to the “Assessment” tab at the end of each orientation, there are smaller assessments at the end of each section. Country profiles are provided with the understanding that most ethnic groups tend to have one country where most of them live.

Most of the cultural orientations have an interactive activity under the “geography” portion of the country profile tab. You’re given the name of the continent (i.e. Africa) where the country under discussion is found and asked to click on that continent. Then you’re given the region of the continent that the country is found (i.e. East Africa) and asked to click on that. Then comes the final and most humbling task of all – you’re given an unlabeled outline map of the region and a group of flags with the country names on them. Your task is to place each flag into its proper country. This was relatively easy for me for the Balkans and much, much trial and error with East Africa. By the time you’re done, you will know what borders the target country.

Many parts of the orientation feature short dialogs. It won’t teach you the languages of the given ethnic, but will be helpful in learning how a language sounds.

Some of the orientations offered are:

  • Algerian Cultural Orientation (Feb 2011)
  • Amharic [Ethiopia] Cultural Orientation (Apr 2011)
  • Dari [Afghanistan] Cultural Orientation (Nov 2008)
  • Hausa [Nigeria] Cultural Orientation (Jul 2007)
  • North Korean Cultural Orientation (May 2009)
  • Saudi Cultural Orientation (Nov 2007)
  • Wu [China] Cultural Orientation (Aug 2008)

These orientations will be helpful in framing stories in foreign countries and may be helpful in setting character beliefs and traditions.



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