Today’s article comes from Michael Jennings, a military linguist for over 12 years specializing in Chinese, French, and some Korean. Along with being an avid writer, Michael also manages the site DLABPrep.com, a website devoted to preparing for the DLAB and helping service members start their career as a linguist.
So with such a long-standing proven program like the military’s, perhaps we can look at what the program is like and whether or not we can use some of their methods in our own language studies. To do this, we will start by following the path of a soldier selected to become a linguist and then follow that up by looking at how they go from level zero to socially fluent in minimal time.
For any soldier, sailor or airmen looking to join the ranks of linguists, they must first pass the Defense Language Aptitude Battery Test or otherwise known as the DLAB. This test was designed so as to decipher whether or not an individual service member will have a higher probability of success in studying a language. If you would like to learn more about this test, and take a DLAB practice test the DLABPrep.com can give you that opportunity.
Because certain languages are harder than others, the military categorizes languages from 1-4 with 4 being the toughest. So based off of their DLAB results, that service member will then be enrolled in the Defense Language Institute (DLI) and placed into language program based on whether their score met the minimum for that language. Once enrolled at DLI, that service member will then be immersed in the language and be lead by a team of foreign nations that will guide them through the program. To highlight the difficulty of certain languages as compared to others, the Spanish program only requires six months whereas the Chinese program requires 1.5 years to reach the same level.
Once the language program at DLI is over, that service member then has to take the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) so as to grade their capability and proficiency in the language. If the service member is lucky, they will then be able to head over to the country in which they learned the language and start an “in-country” training program. However this is rare.
So what can we learn from this program and how can this help our own studies?
- It is the belief of the military that you must immerse yourself in the language so as to grasp it faster. While at DLI, a service member is not allowed to use English and must rely on his or her newly founded language skills. It is not expected of us weekend-warriors to follow this same protocol however the more you hear it, the more familiar you will get. So develop settings that will give you more exposure to the language.
- The DLAB test focuses on grammar structure and the importance of grammar rules, but also, before one starts DLI, a service member has to take a 2 week course on basic English grammar. This process helps a soldier understand the breakdown and organization of a language and gives them the building blocks to apply in their new language before they start the study.
- When DLI creates the foreign teaching team, they pick teachers from different parts of that respective country so as to expose the soldier to different dialects. For example, in Chinese I had teachers from Taiwan, Beijing, Xin Jiang and Yunnan. It was almost night and day between some of their accents. So make sure you look at your sources and broaden them to account for this.
- Most importantly, never neglect the importance of learning that language’s respective culture and history. The military take significant amount of time to teach the service members about that country, it’s culture and it’s heritage. It is believed that this element of learning will help that language learner in the long run.
The US military has been training people to speak foreign languages for almost a century. While their international relations skills might be lacking, their production of capable linguists in incomparable. Hopefully this quick view of the military language production capability has given you some ideas and recommendations on how to improve your language skills.