Linguist training

I suspect this will be my one and only post because I do not wish to get into trouble with any seniors if I identify myself. No OPSEC will be compromised in this comment.

The Armed Forces in general are producing linguists for various jobs which I will not go into. The problem is that the MOD does not understand the job that they are making people do.

Linguists are going through language courses and despite their competence (or lack of) they are being put into jobs that can decide life or death. It is now impossible to fail a language course, they are so desperate for people that they will accept people who are simply not up to the job. It costs so much to put someone on a language course that the brass would rather take incompetent linguists who will put peoples lives at risk, rather than properly check that linguists are able to do their jobs properly.

What the MOD does not understand is that it takes a minimum of six months for a linguist to become operational and able to work alone, and that is after the successful completion of a language course. People are being posted into jobs that they are not qualified for and are also being posted into jobs where they can cost peoples lives through not fault of their own but because they have not received the correct training after the completion of a language course.

It's an absolute joke that the lives of troops are wrongfully put into the hands of people who will make simple mistakes every single day due to a lack of training and a lack of understanding by those in power of exactly what it takes to be an operational linguist.

In order to fill vacant linguist jobs, the MOD has lowered the standard by which these linguists are examined, not that it matters anyway because anyone who has done the course is qualified according to the MOD, whether they were awful of not.

The MOD wants more and more people with exotic languages, what it does not care about is what those linguists are actually doing. If your life is on the line, what do you want? Quantity? or Quality?
Not that I'm a linguist, but have been / are / will be in a position to steer misguided youngsters* into that career stream if they wish.

Everything I've been briefed, told, recounted or heard round the back of the NAAFI tells me all our linguists do excellent jobs, although they're not as well rewarded financially as they should be; my understanding is that this is being addressed.

If you are claiming that our 'product' does not meet the requirements of the field army then I suggest you grow a pair and raise it with your chain of command. If you don't have the moral courage to do that then either PM me with details and I'll do it on your behalf (without revealing my source) or shut the fuck up.

I have never heard any other capbadge, predominately Inf, say anything other than how good our lings are. Maybe I keep bad company, who knows.

Normally I'm the first one to abuse the darksiders, but your post reeks of immaturity and lack of operational experience. Please prove me wrong.

* yes that was a joke!
Its not the MOD as such or the Organisation that manages linguists, it is the whole recruitment of and training of linguists that has given this shortfall of qualified linguists and the inability to switch fire when required. Only the RAF I believe recruit raw linguists from the street.

For the Army you have to join as an Op MI or EW Sys Op, fanny about for a bit then volunteer or by sheer luck land a job that requires language. Continued investement falls back to the Org and not the Corps to sustain.

Tri service wise you all appear to be on the same shong sheet but as a single service its a bolt on, ad hoc requirement that kinda gets in the way with Corps stuff.

This is an outsiders view of course :) and only serves to enhance the debate.


Book Reviewer
While I've been out for a long time, now, I spent many years in the murky world of the linguist and, honestly, what you're saying doesn't differ dramatically from what we were saying in the 70s 80s and 90s. We were wrong then and I suspect you're wrong now. Even if some of the linguists emerging from training are a touch rocky, at least they have some knowledge and that's a million times better than having fuck all.

Quantity has a quality all its own and the requirement for tactical linguists is probably several orders of magnitude greater than anyone who hadn't read any history realised. This puts the training organisations under enormous strain. I have every confidence that they're doing as much as they possibly can to generate people to fill the slots, even if it sometimes means passing people who in an ideal world perhaps would have been encouraged to look for another line of work.

At the risk of sounding like a disgusted old buffer shaking his Telegraph from the depths of a comfy armchair, show me a job in the Army where lives don't ultimately depend upon, usually, a terrified 19-year old doing his best at the pointy end. I think you're being harsh to our young soldiers - my experience, such as it was, would suggest that people rise to a challenge amazingly and the vast majority perform far better than we have any right to expect when it's serious.

All the feedback I get from the slightly less geriatric still in DPM indicates that the supported troops value the support our guys give them, which makes me very proud, actually.

All that said, I do sense that we still haven't got the linguist thing quite right, in terms of pay and career structure. It's probably time to have another look at this and that's certainly what I've been saying on the rare occasions I'm asked (it's not often, I tend to dribble and fart from my bathchair and forget where I put my cigarettes, nowadays, which does make sensible conversations wearing for the other party).
When you talk about linguists with ref to the MOD and churning them out at a large number, are you talking about DJC courses and roles rather than the more traditional ones?
Op_Int_and_Spy said:
Not that I'm a linguist, but have been / are / will be in a position to steer misguided youngsters* into that career stream if they wish.
I are also not a linguist.

can't think why they don't want us mate :)
There are in fact several issues raised here that are certainly not confined to the Int Corps.

The MOD, in my humble opinion, failed to foresee the massive requirement that would exist for Arabic and Pashto linguists. With the Arabic, it's almost excusable as the Iraq invasion was launched without a great deal of notice, certainly not enough to put people on long language courses. Come early 2003, the only linguists qualified to a high enough standard in Arabic to do any kind of operational work, be it our traditional line of work, or FHT, were the tri-service community of linguists (CT, OPMI(L) and INT AN(V) ), sure there were a few ETS officers and a handfull of people who'd done up to colloquial, but that was nowhere near enough.

The failure to provide enough linguists in Pashto however, is inexcusable, we've known since 9/11 that we'd be in Afghanistan for a long time, yet very little has been done. The situation is improving, but is still woefully short of adequate.

A further issue is the mistakenly held belief, (stand fast RAF - not often I praise you, but you're the only one of the 3 services to have got this right) that languages are something that you can just dip in and out of as required - that is not the case. Linguistic competence needs time to develop, and it can take years to develop a sound base of SME's in a language such as Pashto, in order to both train and mentor your newcomers, and to deliver any real effect. The current structure of the Int Corps and the RN CT branch simply doesn't allow for this.

I can confirm that Wonton is correct that very few people who commence language training at DSL do not appear out of the factory the other end, having just completed a long-language course there, I can recall several examples where students failed their level one and two exams, yet were still entered for their level three exam, whereas once upon a time, they would have been either back-coursed or removed from training. I hasten to add that NONE of this is the individual's fault, and I would never criticise the job they do; it must be really hard to struggle at the job, whilst realising how important it is and trying your best. In fact, in the case of DJC linguists, many of whom are outstanding by the way, they should be applauded for volunteering to do a long, academically intensive language course, with nothing to look forward to but a couple of dets to the sandpit.

At the risk of contradicting what I said above however, the entire assessment strategy for DSL language courses is wrong...because it's based on the University of Westminster exams, which often bear no resemblance to the material delivered to the student on course, which of course is ludicrous; nowhere else are you assessed on material that you may not have had delivered to you. They say that this is to give your qualification some external credibility, but even if you manage to achieve a Diploma, Westminster will only allow you credits to attain the one single MA, that only they do! Oh, and it costs more or less the same amount of one year's ELCs. The above, coupled with the fact that no other university recognises the Westminster diploma is all a bit suspect to me. The assessment should be in-house, based on material you've received in class.

Back on topic though, the MOD is now between a rock and a hard place. They have plenty of linguist billets to be filled, and plenty of people, albeit of varying standards/abilities going through the system to fill them now. What are they going to do? Refuse to send people to jobs that need to be done, just because they didn't pass a one-day exam that bears no resemblance to the job they'll actually be doing? Of course not. If you're talking about specific-to-role language training, then that's a job for the receiving units and organisations, not for DSL in my opinion. With the varied mix of students in a class, DSL can't really get into tailoring these courses for indiduals' needs.

I would like to book the dry dock for week to service my ship. I must talk to the harbour master.

I need to book a double room with an en-suite and a nice view of the cathedral.

I would like to rent a medium sized car with air con.*

Hmmm, and they are not up to scratch?

*Examples from an aquaintence on the Pashto course (allegedly Dari is the same). My personal favorite has to be the first.
I am merely OTC, but through studying both Arabic and Persian at uni I feel I can give an opinion on this. You must understand that studying a language for 6 months and becoming fluent enough to engage with a local Afghani farmer is a farce. Both Arabic and Farsi (which includes Dari) are extremely complex languages, Arabic even more so - you must acclimatise to a completely new alphabet and a completely new concept of language which takes a long time, no matter how 'intensive' you make it. Even 6 months of studying 24/7 will not familiarise you enough to be able to understand the dialect. Intensive courses also encourage poor understanding of grammar concepts and poor retention of vocabulary, you move so fast that those who are not 100% comfortable with a grammar concept will be dragged through the course (which is why I bet so many come out so poor). You simply cannot teach someone a language in 6 months to someone who has never learned it before.

It is absolutely necessary that those learning a language spend time studying abroad. Look at those who have learned Spanish, for example, for 6 years in a classroom. Drop them in the middle of Granada and see what happens - they look like mongs. However, say someone who has very little experience with Spanish lives in Madrid for even a year (or 6 months) they are some of the best speakers. There's a lad in my Arabic lecture who spent 3 months in Jordan before coming to uni - he's incredibly proficient at speaking and listening and is far better than the rest of us.

You must also understand that a farmer in Helmand province or an Iraqi in Basra is hardly going to speak a form of Pashto/Arabic that can be learned in a classroom. Arabic in Southern Iraq is a complete melting pot of the Iraqi dialect, Farsi, and a bunch of other languages mixed in. How the hell is some poor squaddie going to be able to have a clue what they are saying? It's the equivalent of a Chinese bloke learning English in 6 months and then going to the centre of Glasgow - how the fcuk is he going to know what's going on?

You are never going to learn a language as easy as Spanish, let alone Arabic/Pashto/Dari by learning phrases like 'I would like some cheese and butter'. Linguists also need to know slang terms for weapons/equipment/enemy (like our slang: gat/kit/Terry) which are also essential to know in situations like these.

I don't have the authority to comment on the teaching of these courses, however if this is how the army teaches a language no wonder the linguists are sub-par. I have a problem with how the army teaches in general, and if this is how they teach languages no wonder there are many 'incompetent' linguists being deployed.

As the recent security problem with Daniel James has shown that we cannot rely on native speakers, especially when they are in close proximity to a wealth of intelligence such as a general.
tearsbeforebedtime said:
I would like to book the dry dock for week to service my ship. I must talk to the harbour master.

I need to book a double room with an en-suite and a nice view of the cathedral.

I would like to rent a medium sized car with air con.*

Hmmm, and they are not up to scratch?

*Examples from an aquaintence on the Pashto course (allegedly Dari is the same). My personal favorite has to be the first.
Bit harsh, perhaps they are good examples of grammar in the language?

One of the first Japanese phrases I leant was "Where is the teacher's umbrella" as it just happened to be a good structured example; I never really cared whether the lecturer got damp or not, and it's not been much use since but it still stuck rather annoyingly in my head ("Kore Wa Sensai No Kasa Desu Ka?")

The MoD's hardly in the dock alone in the neglect of development of languages. All branches of the UK Civil Service have this problem (try finding a UK Immigration Service officer that speaks foreign!).

The police are woeful in development of languages; despite a clear need for something other than a tokenistic "diversity" based approach.

No idea about business as I've not held a proper job.
I am not critisising the poor sods who go to war with this stuff as the FTRS advert says 'Pvt to Maj' but maybe something could be found that was more pertinant (even if the grammar is a blinder, unlike mine).

This was taught in 2008. The feel of the course was that it was cuffed from start to finish.

We have been in Afg since 2001.

Hopefully things will change. Just something to bare in mind
Gremlin0790 said:
You must also understand that a farmer in Helmand province or an Iraqi in Basra is hardly going to speak a form of Pashto/Arabic that can be learned in a classroom. Arabic in Southern Iraq is a complete melting pot of the Iraqi dialect, Farsi, and a bunch of other languages mixed in. How the hell is some poor squaddie going to be able to have a clue what they are saying?
Oh trust me, I do understand, I have been working with Arabic for 14 years, have a 1st class diploma, have served 3 tours in Basra, Baghdad and Al-Amarah as an interpreter and taught Arabic to tri-service students back here for 3 years. I also instigated, designed and delivered a bespoke Iraqi dialect conversion course. I must understand indeed!!

Linguists also need to know slang terms for weapons/equipment/enemy (like our slang: gat/kit/Terry) which are also essential to know in situations like these.
Well thank you for your advice mate, it's a good job we might have already thought of that!!!!
I wasn't aiming my comments at you, Bagster. I didn't intend to come across as a pompous cnut (which I know I did), but I was trying to point out that a 6 month linguist course doesn't seem that it would be able to teach enough to adequately prepare the soldiers for a tour considering it usually takes years for someone to become fluent.
Bagster - your name and avatar give you away, shipmate.

[Rant on]

Unofficially Defence (up to, but not always including SO1 level) is aware that the whole thing is brutally flawed. I can offer nothing more than the fact that the RAF has it right... even if only in this regard.

Given time (more of), money (lots of) and a greater deal of selectivity over and above a finger-in-the-wind MLAT score that not all manning authorities pay any notice to, something could be done. Something is done, but two blokes with a paddle are hardly going to rescue a super-tanker from the current bunch of Somali pirates.

Assessment is not up to scratch, but course design requires greater attention too. There's this thing called DSAT we all talk about, then ignore because it is too much like hard work.

Unfortunately, with a very few exceptions (of which Bagster is certainly one) the sort of guy/gal who can excel at languages can very often excel at many other things too. Hence there are very few truly gifted, infinitely redeployable Service linguists. There are however very many who are prepared, for their country's and their own benefit, to work hard for anything from 10 weeks to 18+ months iot learn a language. Competence does require training and mentoring on the job for many - as it would in any line of work.

Gremlin0790 - you are only in the OTC, and so are mostly forgiven in your pomposity.

Wonton - man up. If you want to know more, say more or see more, and still be listened to politely with a brew in hand, pm me.

[Rant off]
You're letting yourself off the hook there, Teech.

Yes, the MLAT system is a poor method of selection. Yes, there is clearly a dearth of funding. Yes, the Linguist trade needs a career stream that encourages soldiers to improve and deploy again and again, with better linguistic ability and cultural awareness each time.

However, there is much that must be done at DSL and isn't.

I admire the well-meaning sentiment of some previous posters, but all the evidence is that DJC courses are not producing competent enough linguists. I won't go into detail as the cases I'd allude to would be obvious to anyone at DSL.

Despite the criticisms of the "customers" ( awful word, but I'll mention it again in a minute ) DSL does not change. It seems unaccountable. If a Phase 1, or Phase 2 training establishment consistently failed to meet its stated objectives as does DSL, DInf or any other field-orientated formation would be demanding heads on spikes.

If I had been as incompetent a Pl Commander, or any position I have been in as an teeth arms officer, as the CoC here at DSL I would have been removed, no doubt about it and rightly so. Yes, there are reasons beyond its control, as there are for anyone. But they're not enough.

The students who come in on DJC courses are - by and large - TA. I have met none who meet the criteria of chancer who fancied a secure job and scraped past an MLAT. My impressions are that

- Nearly all have given up good jobs which offer commensurate or greater status and reward than their military status

- Many have operational experience

- Nearly all are articulate, intelligent graduates

There are some who become lazy over 15 months, and relax into a comfortable undemanding routine. Largely these students are save-able, they are bored of banging their heads against a failing system which refuses to change.

There are some wasters who have been sidelined by their main career stream, but they are largely regulars. These are probably not ever going to become effective linguists, nor long-term potential.

None of the DJC students here are happy with their courses, in fact nearly all are intensely frustrated and annoyed.

So what, soldiers always moan! Well, true. But there are a significant minority of students here who have studied languages previously, have degrees in linguistics or have taught english. Some fit all three categories, and aren't officers either!

These people are aghast when they arrive, and pulling their hair out by the time three months have passed. In this they are no different to their "lay" fellow students, who arrive at the same conclusions from general intelligence and life experience.

DSL is failing to train students to pass Westminster exams. Hmmm... big deal.

DSL is failing to provide effective linguists to the field army. This is unacceptable.

Many factors are outside DSL's control, but it fails to address those that are within. The language used everywhere is that of being a "provider" that "delivers" a "package" to a "customer". So if they've paid the student to sit through X lessons, in the time frame given then its achieved. Wrong.

Basically, the AGC (ETS) need to get a grip. They work relatively short hours, not particularly hard, on military wages. This while their field army peers from Sandhurst, on the same wages, work longer hours, harder, with greater responsibility, and weeks and months on end away from home. Quite frankly, the AGC (ETS) are on easy street. Captain's wages ( at least 37k remember ) to keep a universally derided system ticking over, while their muckers are Ops Officers, Adjutants, S03s etc.

A universally derided system? Yes. If students are nearly all failing to achieve L3 Westminster Quals, failing to become effective linguists and every course battles without success and in some languages students refuse to attend lessons, then its clearly not working.

They need to be held accountable by the Field Army.

Why am I writing this on an anonymous forum? Have I tried to address it through normal CoC? Yes, of course. But there is no feedback system or any real desire to change. The PS ( AGC ETS and especially the Civil Servants ) here are on a gravy train.

Do I need to man up? Don't think so, almost every improvment in our Dari / Pashto / Arabic is hard won from our effort, and the contributions of the minority of teachers who prepare resources in their own time, and are brave enough ( they're contractors, remember ) to defy the sloppy and useless course design and teach well.

The contribution of the PS here has been non-existent.

Root and branch reform is needed - I reccomend a year with a field Army CO, accompanied by a handful of other field army officers.

Its important, because languages are critical to our success in Afghanistan. If its worth doing, its worth doing well. We tried to get away with the bare minumum in Basra. It didn't work, and we were embarassingly found out in the end.

Thirty years? Fine, but lets fund accordingly, get the enabling functions of the Army working as much as the blokes carrying rifles and radios and train hard.

Bagster and Charlie_Cong - Good work fellas

If only those chimps at JSSO (and others) would take the time to read your posts and take on board the points you put forward.

Hmm !

Not trying to let myself off the hook at all. In fact, all those I know who experience DSL are aware of the issues to some extent. And I have been one of those students of whom you speak. Some students/instructors have even been known to try to initiate change - without going on strike.

MLAT and linguist trades: we appear to agree in principle at least.

There is a key distinction to make between DJC and other customers, of which DSL has more than most, with widely differing needs. As with all servants of many masters, it is pulled in numerous directions at once, and this is a key weakness to subjects as currently taught. As is the pressure to produce more, for less, with levels of infrastructure at which an Infantry OC would, quite frankly, laugh. And please remember that Phase 1 and other Phase 2 establishments do fail to meet their stated objectives, but their trained personnel are assimilated and given on the job training and remediation as appropriate. A luxury that is not usually available to the DJC linguist - and this is the flaw with the DJC system (which is not of DSL's making).

If the CoC above truly cared, would there not have been a 'heads on spikes' moment? It may yet happen - always assuming the many puppeteers pulling the DSL strings can agree that the organisation has failed.

"However, there is much that must be done at DSL and isn't" - yet.

"DSL is failing to provide effective linguists to the field army. This is unacceptable." - Agreed, albeit only to a certain extent.

"and in some languages students refuse to attend lessons" - I wonder what a 'Field Army CO' would have to say to this?

"Its important, because languages are critical to our success in Afghanistan [and elsewhere, now and in every campaign to come]. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.[L]ets fund accordingly, [and] get the enabling functions of the Army [arguably all three Services] working." - OK, so a little editing goes a long way, but I'm with you 100% on this bit.

If you want to have a dig at the ETS Branch, go ahead. It's been done before, and will continue until the whole thing is civilianised. Tell an ETS Officer anywhere (s)he's got an easier job than many in the Armed Forces, and (s)he will probably - in his/her heart of hearts agree with you up to a point. To call it a gravy train, however, is frankly inaccurate in the majority of cases.

DSL needs a root and branch examination of what is taught and how - considering all of its customers. Once this and the appropriate current course and assessment design is done, it needs a full-on TDA capability to make sure that QA and design refreshes can take place. It also needs the J1-9 re-examining. A lot of this is going on in the background, but that takes time (the hijacked super-tanker analogy).

Fancy a brew? Or would that be too much like easy street?


Edited once for rubbish emoticon.
Can anyone explain the uncharacteristic whiff of consensus building-around this thread?

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