Pentagon to Stress Foreign Languages

Joe Lo Bianco j.lobianco at
Tue Apr 12 22:54:28 UTC 2005


Do you know if this is the same as the Department of Defense language plan
that emerged from a conference run by them in association with Center for
the Advanced Study of Language at the Univ of Maryland in late June 2004?  Joe

At 04:05 AM 13/04/2005, you wrote:
>Pentagon to Stress Foreign Languages
>By Bradley Graham
>Washington Post Staff Writer
>Friday, April 8, 2005; Page A04
>The Pentagon has ordered a broad effort to expand the foreign language
>skills of the U.S. military, calling for recruitment of more foreign
>language speakers, higher proficiency levels for linguists and increased
>language instruction for U.S. forces. Among measures still under
>consideration, a senior defense official said, is adoption of a
>requirement that all or most U.S. military officers understand a foreign
>The moves reflect plans by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his
>team to better prepare U.S. forces for more operations and training
>missions in foreign countries and for working with international
>coalitions. In recent strategy statements, the Rumsfeld group has made
>clear that as part of the war on terrorism, it expects the U.S. military
>to take more action abroad to prevent nations from falling prey to
>terrorists or being undermined by such other threats as insurgency, drugs
>and organized crime. "This new approach to warfighting in the 21st century
>will require forces that have foreign language capabilities beyond those
>generally available in today's force," a new Pentagon report said.
>The report expressed high-level concern about what it said are serious
>shortfalls in the language skills and cultural awareness of U.S. forces.
>It faulted the Defense Department for doing poorly in retaining troops
>with language experience or training in regional areas. It also
>acknowledged that defense officials have done little to determine what
>language talent exists in the force, saying such talent "is unknown and
>untapped." "Language skill and regional expertise have not been regarded
>as warfighting skills and are not sufficiently incorporated into
>operational or contingency planning," said the report, released to little
>notice last week. The ability of U.S. troops to communicate in and
>understand foreign cultures, it added, has become "as important as
>critical weapons systems."
>Much of the Pentagon's approach to language skills dates to the Cold War,
>said David S.C. Chu, the Pentagon's undersecretary for personnel. The
>emphasis then was on training translators for intelligence work, mostly
>focused on the old Soviet Union. Now, Chu said, the challenge goes well
>beyond sustaining a small cadre of professional linguists, extending to
>large numbers of combat forces and requiring knowledge of such languages
>as Arabic and Chinese.
>"We're really aiming to move a big part of the force -- that would
>otherwise only know a few words or nothing -- up to some kind of middle
>category," he said in an interview. One option under review is whether to
>require every officer, in Chu's words, to "have some degree of competence
>in one or more of what we call the 'investment languages,' " meaning
>Arabic, Chinese, Japanese or Korean.  "We've asked the military services
>for a concept on how we'd do this," Chu said.
>According to Pentagon figures, about 84,000 service members have some
>language proficiency. Of those, about 19,000 have had their language skill
>certified and receive "proficiency pay." About 1,900 service members are
>listed as proficient in Arabic. No decision has been made on how many more
>professional linguists are needed or what percentage of the U.S. military
>should receive language training, Chu said. But he described last week's
>report as meant to signal that quiet efforts begun in 2002 to address the
>language issue would be giving way to bolder action.
>Titled "Defense Language Transformation Roadmap," the report outlined a
>series of directives to the military services and regional commands, with
>deadlines for action stretching over the next several years. By the end of
>the year, for instance, a Pentagon survey is to be conducted to determine
>how many military and civilian personnel in the Defense Department speak a
>foreign language. A Pentagon "Language Office" is being established, and a
>"language readiness index" will be devised to measure the military's
>Additionally, the services have been ordered to develop plans for
>recruiters to step up efforts among university students with foreign
>language skills, and in immigrant and "heritage" communities in which
>foreign languages are widely spoken. Officials are looking as well at ways
>of quickly expanding the number of language specialists in the event of a
>foreign crisis, by streamlining procedures for hiring contract linguists
>and by compiling a database of linguists who previously worked for the
>Defense Department. A pilot program for a Civilian Linguistic Reserve
>Corps also is being launched.
>The minimum proficiency standard will be raised, particularly for those
>headed for military intelligence work. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being
>most proficient, the traditional requirement for graduates of the
>Pentagon's Defense Language Institute has been achievement of a level of 2
>in reading, listening and speaking. That will jump to a level of 3 for
>some graduates, reflecting what officials say are the greater demands of
>counterterrorism work. "This is not just figuring out how many tanks the
>enemy has," Chu said.  "This is more nuanced work. This is tracking people
>who communicate with allusions, with metaphors."
>To improve retention of troops skilled in a foreign language, the Pentagon
>intends to provide higher pay and greater chances of promotion. Chu
>acknowledged that the Pentagon has not done enough to keep these forces,
>particularly Army specialists known as "Foreign Area Officers" with
>extensive regional experience. Most of these officers often have not risen
>above the rank of lieutenant colonel, Chu noted. "Fortunately, there was a
>cadre of people who loved doing this kind of work, even if we didn't
>manage them all that well," he said. "Now we're saying this is an
>important warfighting skill, and we have to nurture and manage it."
>  2005 The Washington Post Company

Joseph Lo Bianco

Professor of Language and Literacy Education
LLAE, Faculty of Education
The University of Melbourne
3010 VIC   Australia

Tel:    03 8344 8346
Fax:    03 8344 8612
Mob: 0407 798 978
Email: j.lobianco at

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