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March 21, 2009: For the last five years, the U.S. Department of Defense has offered monthly bonuses to troops who were proficient in certain foreign languages, and were able to pass annual exams to confirm their skills. Thus the U.S. Navy has increased the number of certified linguists in its ranks from 1,500 on September 11, 2001, to 3,500 today. In the last five years, number in the marines has gone from 1,000 to 2,700. There have been similar increases in the army and air force.

A military wide survey revealed that 22,000 troops had some skill (from crude to fluent) in Arabic, Chinese, Farsi and Hindi. These languages are much in demand by the armed forces. The bonuses encourage those who are less-than-fluent to improve their skills and pass the proficiency test. Free training is provided, with the prospect of those bonuses once greater proficiency is achieved.

The U.S. Army found that about 13 percent of its troops have some foreign language skills. About ten percent of that group are talented, or needed, enough to receive special pay for their language abilities. This amounts to up to $12,000 a year for active duty troops, and $6,000 a year for reservists. The max rate is available to those with high skill levels in Arabic, Turkish (used in Central Asia), Farsi (Iranian), Chinese, Korean, Dari (Farsi dialect spoken in Afghanistan), Hindi (many dialects in India), Somali and Swahili (common language in East Africa). The minimum bonus is $3,600 a year.

Linguists are crucial for successful intelligence work, in peace as well as war. In particular, you want people who have security clearances, or who can get them, and can act as translators. Department of Defense employees fit the bill here. Otherwise, you have to hire civilian linguists, who often do not have clearances, cannot get them, or are actually liable to act as spies for foreign nations. But whenever troops are overseas, having tested linguists in your unit or ship is a definite plus. Since personnel records are computerized, it's easy to check if you have a needed linguist, and, if it’s a navy ship, get him or her on the bridge to help with some problem (either with some port official, or the crew of a commercial ship you are checking, or helping, out.) The army and marines have an even greater need for translators when they are on the ground in some foreign country and sending patrols out among the local population. The air force is constantly sending brigade size units (air wings) overseas, and having air force linguists makes it easier to deal with the locals.

 

 


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