Did you know? U.S. soldiers with foreign language skills can earn up to $1000 bonus pay per month

January 3, 2012

On Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, the Army Times posted an article entitled “Foreign language program rules modified“.

The article explained that there is a program in the U.S. military that allows soldiers with foreign language skills to earn monthly bonus pay:

“The Foreign Language Proficiency Bonus program has been modified, allowing payments to certain language-skilled soldiers, regardless of their MOS or duty positions.”

Known as the FLPB program, it offers soldiers the opportunity to earn an extra $400 per month for one additional language and up to $1000 per month for a combination of other languages. There are exceptions to the policy and soldiers must pass language proficiency tests in order to qualify for the program.

The military as an advocate of language learning

When a major organization actually pays employees a bonus for having demonstrated language proficiency, that shows how much the organization values the skill. In other words, they literally put their money where their mouth is. However you might feel about the U.S. military, you have to admit that they are single-handedly demonstrating that learning foreign languages can be beneficial to your career.

Military around the world value language skills

In case you’re thinking that this is just a U.S. phenomenon, think again.

A quick search of “foreign languages Canadian military” turned up a result of over 3 million entries on Google. One of the top hits was for the Canadian Forces Language School.

Googling “foreign languages British military” resulted in over 19 million entries. Among them was a page called “Can I join?” The site answers questions for those considering a career in the military. It states that anyone hoping for a career as an officer must have passed courses in either sciences or foreign languages. The British military also runs the Defense School of Languages.

If you are lobbying for language program funding, salute the soldiers

If you are an administrator or manager lobbying to keep your language program alive, look for news stories about how the military in your country values languages.

Here’s a hint: Don’t use search terms like “international languages” or “world languages”, go old school and look up “foreign languages” or “second languages”.

In your letters and reports, speak to the fact that the military supports, values and encourages learning languages, which demonstrates a need for language programs in schools to thrive. Students of the 21st century need all kinds of skills, and global communication skills are among them.

There are so many languages and so many words. Advocating for the survival of our language programs may actually mean advocating for long-term global peace. But try telling that to a politician and you’d be laughed out of his or her office. Instead, cite the forward thinking of the military in encouraging the development of its staff through foreign languages, noting how much they value language learning as a valuable 21st century skill.

Why do companies ignore multilingualism as a valid skill?

My question is: How can we expand this initiative and get major corporations to follow suit and pay bonuses to multilingual employees?

Over the past year, I have heard from U.S. colleagues that there have been severe funding cuts to language programs at the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels.

If corporate America (and corporate Canada, and corporate Everywhere) said, “Hey, world! We need workers skilled in global communication, world languages and intercultural understanding,” you could bet your bottom dollar that governments wouldn’t be cutting funding to language programs.

Education and language advocates spend time lobbying the government to re-instate funding to language programs. While noble, I wonder if a different approach might be more effective? Conversations with those who work in corporations, in HR departments, in marketing and sales and global business, citing examples of how the military offers bonus pay to bilingual and multilingual solders, might spark ideas on how other organizations can leverage, instead of undervalue, or worse, ignore, the depth of skill and understanding that multilingual employees bring to an organization. Those conversations might take much longer to result in changes, but I wonder if the effort would be worth the investment of time and effort to start that dialogue today?

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This post comes with a caveat.  In no way am I in favour of war, military occupation of foreign territories or activities resulting in the loss of human life through weapons or attack. I don’t care what side you are on. When people you love die due to war, it tears us all apart.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

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


The new “F” word in language departments: Foreign.

October 5, 2011

A recent article in Inside Higher Ed offers insights into the political correctness of how we talk about language programs. If you’re like me, you started your career by taking or teaching “foreign languages” or “modern languages”. These terms are now, apparently, passé. These terms have been thrown out, replaced by designations such as “world languages”.

The article reports that “many educators also do not like the way “foreign” suggests a division of the world into the United States and everyone else” or that ” the word ‘foreign’ could imply different in a negative sense”, arguing that Spanish, in particular, is no longer a language foreign to the United States, but rather an officially un-recognized second language of that country.

What about the term “foreign word”? Does that now get replaced by “international word”? Or “world word”? (Try saying that one ten times fast in front of your class.)

Similarly, English as a Second Language (ESL), English as a Foreign Language (EFL) have also fallen out of favor, being replaced by English as an Additional Language (EAL) and English as and International Language (EIL).

Personally (and I accept the risks of ticking off some colleagues as a I say this), I wonder about all these name changes. If we keep changing perfectly respectable words and phrases in order to be politically correct, then are we not at the mercy of fear mongering and negativity, anyway?

I’m not talking here about heinous and derogatory racial or religious verbal aberrations that belong in the toilet bowl. I am talking about professional nomenclature, used by trained and credentialed teachers, researchers, professors, students and government agencies.

If we keep changing professional terms are we not lowering them to the same status as derogatory slang that refers to race, religion or sexual preference? Those terms are intended to ridicule, insult, defile and debase others. Those terms should most definitely be dropped from professional (and even personal) vernacular, in favour of more respectful and less emotionally-charged terminology.

But as far as I know, professional nomenclature was never intended to be emotionally charged. Its purpose, as with all scientific and professional nomenclature, is intended to be objective and even clinical. It is designed to stand the test of time, be searchable in research works throughout the ages and signify the tradition and pride of a the profession.

How often do we see other disciplines fretting about what they call themselves? Physics, for example. One could argue that the word is archaic, dated and hard to spell. It is! Yet physicists around a proud and vigilant bunch who revel in the ancient Greek tradition from which it hails.

Should the word “Physics” be dropped because it’s hard to spell? (I hear my physicist friends snorting in disgust at the very thought of such a ludicrous proposition.)

Or Mathematics. Though it is sometimes shortened to “Maths” or “Math”, we really haven’t seen great changes to name of the discipline in centuries.

Moving away from the hard sciences, “Philosophy” retains its name and its tradition, as well, as does “Fine Arts”, or even “Education” (which I’m surprised hasn’t been banished in favour of “Learning”… but give it time.)

I agree that words are important and wording is highly important. But I do wonder what happens to our sense of identity and pride as language teaching professionals if, every decade or so, we change the name of our discipline to suit what is politically correct at the time?

I’m not saying that “World Languages” is wrong and “Foreign Languages” is right. I am suggesting that we, as professionals, settle on what to call our discipline and stick with it for a century or two.

We lament about cuts to funding and the marginalization of our programs within the institutions in which we work. At the same time, I suspect that colleagues in other disciplines quietly snicker at us. While we bicker and fret about what to call ourselves, they methodically and strategically move forward, claiming funding and research dollars, unapologetically going by the same name they’ve had for centuries.

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


Resource: “Say G’Day to Homestay”

July 27, 2011

G'Day to HomestayIDP is an Australian organization specializing in international education services for Australia. One of those resources is a homestay guide called Say G’Day to Homestay. It is for Australia-bound international students who will be living with a local family.  This is a brilliant guide. It answers questions about everyday life in Australia that foreigners may not know such as:

  • How do I get to school?
  • What will I eat?
  • How do I dispose of household waste?

It also offers tips on laundry, lights, heating, using the telephone, home security, smoking and pets.

These are topics that locals take for granted because they seem second nature to us. The same issues confound and confuse the foreigner who may have no idea of what is expected or appropriate.

This guide is specifically for students going to Australia. If you’re not in Australia, go check it out anyway. Then ask yourself how you can provide a similar guide to your international students that will help them understand the same issues in your local area.

Here’s the link to the guide: http://www.idp.com/PDF/Say%20Gday%20to%20Homestay.pdf

Related posts:

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

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


Common tech abbreviations used in language teaching and literacy

July 15, 2011

Is your mind boggled about all the abbreviations and acronyms you find when it comes to talking about technology and language learning? Here are a few of the more common ones, spelled out:

app – application: a program often used on a mobile device such as a cell phone or a tablet.

b-learning – blended learning (methodology that combines f2f and e-learning)

BLE – blended learning environment

BLL – blended language learning

CALI – Computer-assisted language instruction (this term was later replaced with CALL)

CALL – computer-assisted language learning

CAI – Computer-assisted instruction

CLIL – Content and Language Integrated Learning

CMC – computer-mediated communication

CVRE – collaborative virtual reality environment

e-learning – electronic learning

f2f – face-to-face (i.e. traditional classroom instruction)

m-learning – mobile learning (e.g. learning with mobile phones, iPads, etc.)

MALL – mobile-assisted language learning

MOO –  multi-user object-oriented technology

MMO or MMOG – massively-multiplayer online game

PDA – personal digital assistant

SCA – synchronous cyber-assessment

TELL – Technology-enhanced language learning

TTS – text-to-speech

VOIP – Voice-over Internet Protocol

VR – virtual reality

WELL – Web Enhanced Language Learning

Have I missed any? If so, leave me a comment and we’ll keep adding to the list.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

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


Secrets Gandhi Knew About Language Learning

July 11, 2011

Regular readers of this blog know about my passion for connecting language learning to leadership. I truly believe that language learning helps us to improve our leadership skills, understand others with a deeper sense of compassion and see the world in wiser ways. I am inspired by the work of Gandhi, who was a strong advocate of learning second and foreign languages.

Here’s a reprint of an article that was published on the topic. It was originally published in Zephyr, the newsletter of the Second Languages and Intercultural Council (SLIC) of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. It is reprinted here with permission:

View this document on Scribd

Related posts:

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

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


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