Language Majors and the Service Academies

Discussion in 'Life After the Academy' started by PaParent, Jan 25, 2014.

  1. PaParent

    PaParent Member

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    If (BIG if) a DS or DD receives an appointment to both USNA and USMA and is interested in a foreign languages major (Arabic, Chinese) which academy has the strongest program and allows to most opportunity during and after graduation? Thoughts and potential sources of information (outside of academies themselves) appreciated.
     
  2. Strength and Honor

    Strength and Honor Member

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    I don't think there's enough difference in the two schools language programs to make that the deciding factor. Instead, she should look what branch she ultimately wants to serve in; there's big differences between the Navy and the Army.

    Even if she does major in a language, both branches will probably still send her to the DLI to REALLY learn it anyways.
     
  3. cville22

    cville22 New Member

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    can anyone describe to me the process for language validation tests at the USNA
     
  4. nuensis

    nuensis USNA 2016

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    I only took the Chinese language validation tests. They are electronic multiple choice tests for reading and listening comprehension, similar in format to the SAT Subject Test for Chinese. You may only receive credit for up to four semesters of any language, but you may be placed in any higher level as needed. For example, a plebe with an almost native command of Chinese may be placed in FC411 in plebe year, but his matrix will only reflect validation for FC101, FC102, FC201, and FC202. Validation also does not count towards the language requirements of a language major (i.e. a mid that validates four semesters of Chinese will not be exempt from any Chinese language credit requirements because of validation; he must continue the series to obtain the major). However, validation DOES count towards a language minor (i.e. a mid that validates four semesters of Chinese will be able to obtain a Chinese minor after taking only two more semesters of Chinese).

    The DLPT is also listening and reading only (at least, for USNA). Similar multiple choice format. Midshipmen are not eligible for the FLPB (wouldn't that be nice), but the test is good for two years, and proficiency in a critical language like Chinese Mandarin means a bonus regardless of community or duty station. The DLPT is offered to midshipmen twice a year and is required for semester study abroad and LSAP.

    As with many things at the Academy, you get what what you put in. It is possible to graduate as a Chinese major with absolutely no working knowledge of the Chinese language at all. Learning a language requires constant self-study and practice outside of the classroom. From what I've seen, those with the highest learned proficiency are always those who have done semester study abroad (especially the language immersion program, where they will drop you from the program if you so much as speak a sentence in English). Any serious language major should aim for the Semester Abroad program.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2014
  5. MemberLG

    MemberLG Member

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    For Army, very limited language opportunities after graduation for least 10 to 12 years (do an internet search on Army Foreign Area Officer). There are very few, if any, junior Army officer positions that officially require foreign language skills. The Army doesn't need to spend several hundred thousands dollars to commission an officer, than train the officer to be a linguist, when they could do it a lot cheaper with enlisted soldiers or just hire contractors.
     
  6. PaParent

    PaParent Member

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    Languages

    Interesting response. Why then have the majors at all at WP? They actually offer the most variety amongst language majors. A friend of our family (Ranger) said there was an acute shortage of female soldiers capable of dialogue with the natives in Afgan territories. Seems male soldiers aren't permitted to talk/search/interrogate female citizens in the Arab world
     
  7. BigBear

    BigBear Class of 2015

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    because it makes the school look good for the all-important top colleges rankings
     
  8. Spud

    Spud BGO

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    I think you are making the very common mistake of a lot of parents and candidates in thinking your MAJOR will determine your JOB----they are two totally different things. I can only speak for the Navy but the job of the Academy is to educate, train, and prepare officers to lead sailors and Marines in combat operations. The key phrase here is "combat operations". A newly commissioned ensign/2nd LT will go straight into one of the Big 5: Ships, Subs, Aviation, SEALS, or Marines. Their MAJOR does not necessarily match the JOB. A pilot can have an English degree, a Marine an Engineering degree, a SEAL an Economics degree, and a sub driver a Chemistry degree. Their job will consist of being a Division Officer or Platoon Leader in their respective fields in charge of about 10-20 enlisted troops.

    Having said that, after a sea tour or two, they may apply to go into a Restricted Line community such as Intelligence, Engineering Duty Officer, Cryptology, or any of a number of specialized fields in which they may well use their major quite a bit. In doing so, they give up their opportunity to command ships, squadrons, fleets and the higher levels of command up to CNO and the Joint Chiefs. They are promoted only within their particular field which may have many openings or few.

    Normally if an officer wants to go to a Restricted Line field, he/she uses their sea tour time to investigate their field of interest, talk to people in it and determine if it is, indeed, cooler than what they are doing and where they are going. A common question is why does not the Navy take sharp young ensigns straight from the Academy and send them to these specialties? The answer is that the Navy does not want isolated specialists with with a lot of book learning and no real-world experience making boneheaded decisions affecting the combat units. They want the support people to know the problems of the trigger pullers on a gut level.
     
  9. MemberLG

    MemberLG Member

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    It wasn't until mid 80 that cadets were allowed to declare a major. All just got a general Bachelor of Science degree, they still do even English majors.

    There is no easy way to deal with foreign language requirement. To train a non native speaker on one of the harder languages, least 1 or 2 years of intensive training. And once the focus changes, what do we do? I am sure all the Russian linguist we trained are fully engaged.
     
  10. lotrjedi13

    lotrjedi13 _

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    I respectfully disagree. Language is an important skill for an Army officer to pursue (or at least study) for two reasons:

    1) It is part of a liberal, broadening education

    An Austrian philosopher said, "The limits of my language are the limits of my universe." Understanding a foreign language's grammar, ideation, and expression improves a person's ability to grasp new concepts and view problems outside of the box. These broadening-of-the-mind skillsets are fundamental to the liberal education that West Point provides.

    2) Utility

    A string of military leaders, from ADM Stavridis to GEN (R) McChrystal to GEN Odierno have publically spoken about the importance of language competency to military preparedness. In a joint-operations (potentially regionally-aligned) world, being able to communicate with counterparts without the spoiling intermediary of an interpreter facilitates faster, more accurate communication and helps build stronger interpersonal relationships.
     
  11. nuensis

    nuensis USNA 2016

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    There's a distinct difference between professional proficiency and being able to read a restaurant menu or talk for a bit about the nice weather.

    So, you should realize that neither program at either school will prepare you to be an awesome linguist. Maybe you'll get a ship homeported in Japan and you'll be able to say, "Hey, I know what that says." Maybe 5-7 years down the line you'll redesignate as an FAO. That's about it.

    Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that you're taking a language class three hours a week for four years. Think about your level of English proficiency back when you were in third grade. Not impressive, right?

    To answer the question more directly, the opportunities are slim. FAO and DLI are pretty much it.
     
  12. MemberLG

    MemberLG Member

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    Hence cadets are required to take a one year of foreign language (at least when I was cadet). But majoring in a foreign language is not "broadening" as being an engineering major with a foreign language minor. Try to get a job as a foreign language major whenever you leave the Army.

    The importance of language competency to military preparedness sounds great, but in practice almost impossible to achieve. When I was stationed at Korea, other than Korean Americans U.S. Army officers, I knew one U.S. Army officer that was somewhat proficient in Korean, and how long have we been stationed in Korea?

    What you mean to say is in a combined operation.

    joint — Connotes activities, operations, organizations, etc., in which elements of two or more Military Departments participate.

    combined — A term identifying two or more forces or agencies of two or more allies operating together.
     
  13. MabryPsyD

    MabryPsyD Dr. G.

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    +1

    You hit the nail on the head. Let me put it another way. If your major is useless outside of the military, chances are its just as useless inside the military. Outside of the special branches (medical, JAG, chaplain), the military will teach you everything you need to know. Don't hang your hat on an academic major. Chances are I can train a music major to perform the same job in the military as a language major.

    Yup, I said it...
     
  14. Spud

    Spud BGO

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    Wasn't it LT Maryk in the "Caine Mutiney" who observed that "the Navy is a system designed by geniuses to be run by idiots"? I always uncomfortably remembered that I was not one of those that designed the system.
     
  15. lotrjedi13

    lotrjedi13 _

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    Thank you for correcting me on joint/combined operations. The things Firsties don't know these days... :redface:

    I agree that a language major's utility is not as immediately evident ias an engineering major. The latter is certainly better-compensated in the civilian world than the former. I also agree that the intellectual broadening that mandatory language study provides cadets is but one of the many broadening avenues that compose West Point's curriculum (non-engineering types currently have a mandatory 4 semesters of mandatory language courses compressed into 3 semesters).

    I do have two points I'd like to push back on, though.

    1) It seems that the U.S. Army's lack of foreign language competence (the example you shared of Korea comes to mind) is not necessarily evidence that such competence is nearly impossible to achieve. Rather, it could also show that language competence is an underappreciated aspect of Soldier and Officer education, as Admiral Stavridis, GEN McChrystal, and GEN Odierno have variously asserted.

    2) Comparing the broadening experience of a language major to that of an engineering major w/the core language courses is as difficult as comparing apples to oranges. The language major, if he applies himself, can gain and maintain competence in navigating another nation's linguistic and cultural differences in order to build strong human relationships. The engineer knows how forces and materials interact in nature and can accordingly harness them to build (or destroy) strong structures. Both can prove immensely useful, depending on the problem at hand, and both have had their thought processes expanded by their studies.

    Apologies if I am reading anything into your post that was not there.
     
  16. MemberLG

    MemberLG Member

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    Forum postings are not the best way to discuss most matters. I think we agree to disagree as to agreeing on the importance of foreign language skills and disagreeing on the approach/execution of leveraging such skills.

    I bet Admiral Stavridis, GEN McChrystal, and GEN Odierno don't speak any foreign language at all . . . .
     
  17. PaParent

    PaParent Member

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    This dialogue has been very useful and very informative. Operating a business that interacts with French Canadians daily has taught me the value of being able to "speak the Language" of another. Heck, just GO to Quebec, speak English at a restaurant and see where it gets you. Also, having even a rudimentary level of understanding of an Asian or Indian language and culture is INVALUABLE in today's world of commerce. Negotiations over product values and pricing travel a far different path once the playing field is better defined through clear communication. Global commerce is now the norm, and that is a far different norm than what was only a few years ago. I see a very clear value in a language and culture major outside of the military.
    This thread has left me with a question of the value of many "majors" within the structure of the military (outside of the obvious few). It seems that many of the majors have little or any use immediately after graduation. However, I'd hope that a USNA grad going into the Marines would find some use with the ability to speak an Arab dialect. ?
     
  18. MemberLG

    MemberLG Member

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    In old days that grad would more than likely be stationed at Japan.
     
  19. BigBear

    BigBear Class of 2015

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    Odds are, it won't be the right dialect (Egyptian vs Levantine, etc.) and he or she won't be proficient enough to justify not bringing an interpreter along.

    I don't know enough about the job market for mid-level managers with a BS in a language to comment beyond that.
     
  20. kinnem

    kinnem Moderator

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    I don't think we have too many Marines stationed in Arabic speaking countries since we pulled out of Iraq.
     

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