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Thread: Language Issues

  1. #1
    Council Member Kevin23's Avatar
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    Default Language Issues

    I'm a current AROTC cadet at my current college, which I just transferred to and I'm aiming to be branch Army MI, or Psyops, and I'm undecided on the third choice.

    Also academically I have to pick up meeting my language requirements again which I somewhat met at my old school and I was mainly thinking Arabic since it still is a really in demand tongue. However, MI is like the 2nd most in demand branch in my battalion and with the demand for language & cultural skills many of the cadets hoping to branch this have took or are taking Arabic, and this trend from what I understand has occurred in ROTC detachments across the country and across the various service's. Therefore, I was thinking of taking something else to more distinguish me in this area like Russian which I personally think will become more critical in coming years, or Chinese which my Dad say's I should take if I really want to add to my profile.

    I know Pashto, Urdu, Farsi, are all very critical at the moment also but they aren't offered at my current institution sadly, although there has been alot of talk of adding some courses in these languages.

    So any opinions?

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    Kevin,

    I wouldn't do Russian because the Army still has tons of Russian linguists from the Cold War days. Chinese on the other hand is still vastly underrepresented compared to Arabic and the others you mentioned, because of the current wars.

    If you want email me on AKO, I am a current MI officer deployed to Iraq.

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    Chinese - hands down. All this nation-building and COIN bs is hopefully just a flash in the military strategy pan. It'll take a few more yrs but we'll eventually extricate ourselves and learn a lesson in the process. Chinese is where the money will be at. They're a real national interest which is more than I can say for our current slew of policies.

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    Default You already have a head start

    Kevin--

    I hardly think it matters all that much which language you choose as long as it is one that you can actually use. (See the thread on FAOs.) You have been taking Arabic, I'd recommend that you continue it and make every effort to take a semester or year on a study abroad program in an Arabic speaking country. While there, don't hang around with the Americans or other English speakers, but make friends witn non-Engllish speaking locals. That way, when you return to the US, you will distinguish yourself from your peers by scoring higher on the DLI language test.

    An old MI FAO's comments for what its worth.

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Chinese? Yes.

    There are some potentially useful aspects to learning Chinese; the option to have a funded study tour to China (the EU has a specific programme for this, but is years long) and the ability to interact with any Chinese students on campus. The biggest difficulty, pre-Army, is keeping any language ability alive.
    davidbfpo

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    Kevin,

    I am an MI officer, and when I was a cadet, well before the current wars, I was thinking the same thing you were. I took Russian. Here is my advice to you:

    1. Don't take Russian or any other language that you will not be able to practice. Despite three years and a Russian minor, I lost all if it within a couple of years because it is extremely perishable when you have no exposure to it.

    2. Your logic of picking a language to set yourself apart makes sense in theory, however in practice, selection boards tend to be very short sighted and are only thinking about today's requirements.

    3. As an MI officer, you are not required to have a language, and unless you are really good at it, it is unlikely you will use more than a few phrases (which can be learned in country).

    4. I took Russian and German. Do you know how many countries speak those two languages? Maybe 4? My advice, take a look at the most common languages in the world. English, French, Spainish and Arabic. If you can speak two if those four, you will be able to communucate in probably 70% of the countries in the world.

    5. Chinese? A good consideration due to the expected influence they will have on the future world. However, see comments above. Hard to maintain. Limited applicability.

    6. Chose a language program that includes a road trip. The best thing you will get in any language course is learning the culture, and that can't happen in a classroom.

    Hope this helps.

    Brian

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    Council Member 82redleg's Avatar
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    Language training is important, but I don't think it factors into your branch assignments.

    Also, unless things have changed recently (like the last year), you can't directly assess from ROTC into PSYOP- you branch something else, do well, and after 2-1/2 years or so, you are selected by the ARSOF board to attend the PYSOP course.

    Talk to your cadre about the system- its unfortunate, but there are ways to game the system. To do that, you have to know how it works. My info is 14 years out of date now, but there are trends you can play, based on your individual scores, because each branch can only take so many top 1/3, middle 1/3 and bottom 1/3 scoring cadets.

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    Council Member Stan's Avatar
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    Hey Kevin,
    Having learned four languages over the years I would echo John's advice: Learning any language will be a benefit for not only your MI career, but the remainder of your life.

    I would take Russian over Chinese, although both are good choices and will serve you well. I disagree with Brian - There are more than 170 million Russian speakers and 2 million living in Germany alone (just a tad behind Arabic speakers in the world).

    We could argue that there are five times more Chinese speakers than Russian, but keep in mind that the geographical distribution of Russian is far greater being the second language for many people in Europe and the former East Bloc.

    Good luck with whatever you decide !
    Regards, Stan
    If you want to blend in, take the bus

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    Chinese - while opportunities for using in China itself may be limited there are many places around the world in which there are Chinese-speaking communities where stability type ops are likely/possible although I'm in no position to offer an advice as to which form of Chinese e.g. Mandarin, Cantonese, etc...

    The other advantage is that you would be the only guy on your block able to actually be able to read the instructions for any of your home appliances...

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    @Kevn,

    My argument against Russian isn't about the sheer number of Russian speakers in the world, it is about how easy it is to maintain and it's worldwide applicability. Just yesterday I interviewed an MI Russian linguist, and despite being his control language, he talked about how hard it is to maintain. Yes, there are many countries in the works that once was forced to speak Russian, Afghanistan included, but I would argue that speaking Russian will not endear you with many of those populations.

    Regarding applicability, you are correct, the numbers speaking Russian are significant, but they are still somewhat regionalized and focused in a part of the world where we certainly have interests, but I suspect limited involvement. I expect a greater involvement in Africa (assuming we maintain our current foreign policies). French would be more useful. I personally have found Spanish to be an extremely useful language and very easy to maintain due to the prevalence if Spanish here in the States.

    So my advice is learn a language with great utility worldwide, enough regular access to maintain. My experience has been that once you learn a new language, it is easier to learn another when a mure relevant and timely language presents itself. Don't try to predict an odd language, go with the high probability langauges. Good luck with whatever you pick.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 10-05-2010 at 09:15 PM. Reason: Addresse corrected

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    Sorry, last post was meant to be @Kevin, but in response to Stan's comments. As you will see, there are multiple views on this topic.

  12. #12
    Council Member Abu Suleyman's Avatar
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    Default Chinese All the Way

    As a former Army Chinese linguist I will make a few arguments for chinese, that you may not have thought of.

    1) There will always be a demand for Chinese, no matter how many linguists there are there will never be enough.

    2) The Chinese are always very gracious and there are Chinese communities everywhere. While this is true to greater or lesser extents with any language, the near ubiquity of "Chinatowns" throughout the world means that with Chinese, you have a foot in that door. More importantly, as you have hopefully learned with your other languages, knowing the language goes a long long way towards respect, and that is especially true with Chinese.

    3) China has a ton of movies, many of them good, and most of them available through Netflix or online, and sometimes even Redbox or Blockbuster depending on where you live.

    4) Chinese food is really good, and it can be a lot of fun going to the places that your Chinese speaking partners know.

    5) You will never get a tattoo that says something you don't understand, because it looks cool, and you will know what all the idiots around you have tattooed on their backsides.

    6) There are a lot of really good students from China, who it is very useful to know. If you know their language, they will seek you out. (This is not about 'asians are smart' or anything like that, just that many of the best students from China come to the US for an education.) I have had several very well known visiting professors seek me out for assistance, and help me in turn, only because I speak Chinese, even though I am a grad student.

    Then I have to give the one drawback.

    1) Chinese is easily the hardest language I have ever learned, and I speak six including Arabic. This is because there is no alphabet of any kind, and there are 60k+ characters. That is a lot. However, that is also the reason for a lot of the things that I was talking about in the plusses. If you climb a big mountain, you will get rewarded with a great view.
    Audentes adiuvat fortuna
    "Abu Suleyman"

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    Council Member 120mm's Avatar
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    I will echo the comments about taking a language.

    Study a language that you will use, regardless of your career field. Army Selection boards can be fickle things; you have a co-equal chance of being Transportation, Quartermaster or Chemical Corps as you do your "dream jobs". If you really want to function in a language or Intel based MOS, forget about being an officer and go to Warrant Officer Course.

    It's kind of brutal, but there it is. Your goal for being an officer should be to lead soldiers, not do a job or speak a language. If that is not your goal, you should not be an officer.

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    Council Member Kevin23's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 120mm View Post
    I will echo the comments about taking a language.

    Study a language that you will use, regardless of your career field. Army Selection boards can be fickle things; you have a co-equal chance of being Transportation, Quartermaster or Chemical Corps as you do your "dream jobs". If you really want to function in a language or Intel based MOS, forget about being an officer and go to Warrant Officer Course.

    It's kind of brutal, but there it is. Your goal for being an officer should be to lead soldiers, not do a job or speak a language. If that is not your goal, you should not be an officer.
    120mm,

    My future first career objective is of course learning to lead and manage troops, as well as gaining proficiency in planning and seeing that goals on a tactical, operational, and strategic level are properly executed.

    However, in this day and age I view language and cultural proficiency as important, and this has been stressed to many by others. In addition to the the current and future security environment, and especially if I am aiming for MI or any related officer slot under it.

    However, the language issue ties in part with my academics, which also ranks in equal importance with my need for military and physical proficiency as well. So overall, I view those three issues as equally important to each other.

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    Council Member 82redleg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin23 View Post
    120mm,

    My future first career objective is of course learning to lead and manage troops, as well as gaining proficiency in planning and seeing that goals on a tactical, operational, and strategic level are properly executed.

    However, in this day and age I view language and cultural proficiency as important, and this has been stressed to many by others. In addition to the the current and future security environment, and especially if I am aiming for MI or any related officer slot under it.

    However, the language issue ties in part with my academics, which also ranks in equal importance with my need for military and physical proficiency as well. So overall, I view those three issues as equally important to each other.
    You were given good advice, by one who has been there and done what you are attempting.

    Instead of arguing, you should listen

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    SF, CA and PSYOP are non-accessions branches. You can apply as a 1LT (P).

    You should know this.

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    Kevin,

    I agree with a lot that's been said here, so I'll just reinforce some points.

    As someone who has undergone formal and informal language training for seven different languages (including Russian which I barely get a chance to speak), start with selecting a language you will be motivated to learn and one you can use often.

    Learning a language is a hard slog, so spend your time doing something you will get a lot out of.

    As an MI Officer, if you need to retrain in another language, no big deal. Once you've had a positive experience learning a language, you can take on another. It's time-consuming, sure, but it will be faster the second time around.

    Btw, RE cultural proficiency, you'll learn it along the way, not in a classroom.

    All the best!

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    Council Member Kevin23's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SethB View Post
    SF, CA and PSYOP are non-accessions branches. You can apply as a 1LT (P).

    You should know this.
    I knew about SF, however the other two I was a little confused about both of those at first.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin23 View Post
    I knew about SF, however the other two I was a little confused about both of those at first.
    Kevin,
    Also not well known are the opportunities that CA and PSYOPS are afforded such as immersion training abroad and later as an instructor, teaching and living with indigenous forces.

    That said I'll also just say one more thing about language proficiency with regard to cultural awareness and MI - if you don't speak and appropriately act like "one of them" you're not getting into the club. Ranting away right like out of a dictionary (be it DLI or FSI) is certainly not how most locals communicate (colloquial). The Intel consumer back at the flag pole is also very dependent on your spin when providing information (not just some raw order of battle). What you interpret from rudimentary information may be more significant than the info itself.

    Regards, Stan
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    Council Member 120mm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin23 View Post
    120mm,

    My future first career objective is of course learning to lead and manage troops, as well as gaining proficiency in planning and seeing that goals on a tactical, operational, and strategic level are properly executed.

    However, in this day and age I view language and cultural proficiency as important, and this has been stressed to many by others. In addition to the the current and future security environment, and especially if I am aiming for MI or any related officer slot under it.

    However, the language issue ties in part with my academics, which also ranks in equal importance with my need for military and physical proficiency as well. So overall, I view those three issues as equally important to each other.
    I think you are on the right track, then.

    There are two things, academically that I think really reflect on thinking skills/intelligence. Writing and learning a foreign language. While both are not a priori proof of intellect, they indicate an inquisitive mind and the motivation to expand it.

    Good on you.

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