New Foreign Language Requirements for British Army

The British Army is getting serious about foreign languages. According to The Telegraph, starting in 2018 soldiers will need at least some foreign language training if they wish to be promoted above the rank of Captain.

The move is meant to help improve cultural awareness and make it easier for the military to communicate with local people during overseas deployments.  Some experts believe that better cultural awareness would have improved outcomes in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The requirement is new, but according to outside experts and senior military officers alike, the goal is a return to an older model of military service, one that is less reliant on brute force and more reliant on “people skills” to gain cooperation. For example,  James de Waal, senior fellow for international security at international affairs think-tank Chatham House, told the Financial Times,

“In part it’s a return to a traditional British empire policing role – chaps in long khaki shorts dealing with locals with low levels of force but high levels of nous.”

Meanwhile, a senior officer told The Telegraph that

“Many of our forebears would have been embarrassed to see how little knowledge we arrived with in Iraq and Afghanistan. In our great grandfathers’ time, when they served in those regions, they spoke the languages and knew the people.”

Starting this year, subunit commanders will be offered language training, primarily in French and Arabic.  Fluency is not the goal, an army spokeswoman said in a statement to Soldier Magazine:

“Bi-lateral relationships are essential for the Army’s future focus on defence engagement. Officers aiming to be considered for subunit command appointments starting in 2018 will need to demonstrate basic survival level speaking and listening skills in a foreign language.”

Do you think the new requirements are a good idea?

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