How the Military Promotes Language Learning

Dr. Sarah Eaton's blogThe U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) recently released an article about how they strive to preserve and promote language skills. The article talks about how the DOD trains thousands of employees a year in over two dozen languages. They make some interesting points such as:

Recruits often wait 2 or 3 years for assignments in a location requiring a foreign language, in order to get their skills up to snuff.

Language skills can atrophy over time. It’s a “use it or lose it” kind of thing.

The military uses a variety of means of teaching including face-to-face classes, distance education, video training, virtual classrooms and mobile learning teams.

The Defense Language Institute (DLI) has over 26 language training facilities around the world.

Last year the program provided 21,000 hours of instruction to nearly 1,300 students. That’s almost ten times what it provided in 2009, which was 2400 hours of instruction.

I find it ironic that while government ministries, school boards and universities are drastically slashing the budgets for language programs, the U.S. military has increased its language teaching programs dramatically. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if those in charge of education invested in language training for younger students, that those students would become more employable in their early adult years?

Could it be that the military has more insight into the value of language learning than educational policy makers?


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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