[lg policy] blog: Critical Language Needs

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 19 16:24:25 UTC 2011

Critical Language Needs

Language Education - No Comments » - Posted on January, 18 at 8:31 pm
language education
by sarspri

Critical Language Needs

As in all public policy debates, present “language crisis” debate
centers on attempts to define a problem in specific and strategic
ways. Political scientist Frank Fischer explains that participants in
policy debates use rhetorical strategies “to portray a social
situation in a way that favours [sic] one’s own argument and course of
action as being in the public interest”. While a national security
language policy is still being shaped, with the change in presidential
administrations taking place and several legislative proposals
awaiting action by congressional subcommittees, federal officials to
this point have defined the nation’s language and its language
problems in a way that directs attention and resources toward military
and intelligence operations. English scholars need to understand how
this social situation has been portrayed in order to redirect public
attention and funding toward other language needs in U.S. society.

The DoD and related federal agencies, such as the Department of
Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI), came to see foreign language education
as a significant national security concern after September 11, 2 001.
Inquiries into the terrorist activities of September 11 led to
suggestions that the federal government’s insufficient language
resources had contributed to its inability to anticipate and prevent
the attacks. Several government reports, including those resulting
from inquiries by the 9/11 Commission, warned that the military and
intelligence communities did not have enough linguists and translators
on staff to sustain a full-scale counterterrorism effort (Nad.
Commission 78, 92). The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) similarly
found that, at the FBI, “shortages of language-proficient staff have
resulted in the accumulation of thousands of hours of audiotapes and
pages of writing material that have not been reviewed or translated”
(14). In this same January 2002 report, the GAO concluded that the
Army did not have “the linguistic capacity to support two concurrent
major theaters of war, as planners require” (15). From the perspective
of these independent reviewers, the federal government had allowed
this “language crisis” to emerge by failing to assess both its
language capabilities and its language needs in the midst of an
unstable international security environment.

The DoD leadership identified three primary reasons leading to this
national security “language crisis.” First, several DoD self-studies
revealed that a narrow understanding of “language skills” and
“language needs” has long been ingrained in U.S. military culture. In
the 2004 National Security Strategy report, DoD officials noted that
in many instances, U.S. Combatant Commanders think about the
military’s language needs solely in terms of the linguists who
translate intelligence-related texts.

These commanders, the report concluded, “lack understanding of the
multiple dimensions of language capability” that they could deploy
while planning and executing military operations.2 Moreover, U.S.
command structures have been based on a deep-rooted bias in the
military culture that does not regard language competencies as
“warfighting skills” (U.S. Dept. of Defense, Defense 2005, 3). This
lack of understanding and this bias have led to language skills and
cultural knowledge not being listed as important qualifications for
officers assigned to Combatant Commanders’ staffs; in turn, the
military has not prioritized language education in its officer
training programs. Equally as significant, Combatant Commanders have
ignored opportunities to add to their planning staffs those personnel
who already hold relevant language abilities, especially Foreign Area
Officers, who possess a unique combination of combat skills; deep
knowledge of a region’s culture, politics, and economics; and advanced
proficiency in speaking, listening, and reading at least one language
in a wide range of military, diplomatic, and civic contexts.

-- http://www.gtz-legal-reform.org.cn/critical-language-needs/
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