ARABIC: HIGH-TECH TUTOR

Army Special Operations soldiers may soon get a high-tech computer game to teach them Arabic. Now being designed at the University of Southern California, the Tactical Language Training System helps students learn "situational Arabic" by inserting them into a realistic videogame as Special Forces operator Maj. John Smith (Maj. Kate Jones for women). The mission: enter a Lebanese village (an Iraqi version is planned) and talk your way into meetings with the mayor and a "Shiite leader of uncertain loyalties" to get help rebuilding a damaged water plant. The game is constructed from a stripped-down version of the popular Unreal Tournament--but without the guns. It employs voice-recognition and artificial-intelligence technologies so that the mayor and others react to Smith's Arabic words and motions. Smith advances if a soldier pronounces Arabic properly and uses respectful gestures. But villagers can react badly. In a cafe sequence, the major explains his mission and asks his way to the mayor's house. If the student botches his request, a bystander leaps up. "You're lying ! You are CIA!" he yells at Smith. The game can be run on a PC, and the Army hopes it will help Special Forces soldiers who often deploy too quickly for detailed language instruction. Soldiers at Fort Bragg will test a prototype next month, and the $7.4 million project may ship late this year.