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Critical Language Needs

By Author: peter
Total Articles: 191

As in all public policy debates, present "language crisis" debate centers on attempts to define a problem in specific and strategic ways. Political scientist Frank Fischer explains that participants in policy debates use rhetorical strategies "to portray a social situation in a way that favours [sic] one's own argument and course of action as being in the public interest". While a national security language policy is still being shaped, with the change in presidential administrations taking place and several legislative proposals awaiting action by congressional subcommittees, federal officials to this point have defined the nation's language and its language problems in a way that directs attention and resources toward military and Ed Hardy Clothes intelligence operations. English scholars need to understand how this social situation has been portrayed in order to redirect public attention and funding toward other language needs in U.S. society.

The DoD and related federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), came to see foreign language education as a significant national security concern after September 11, 2 001. Inquiries into the terrorist activities of September 11 led to suggestions that the federal government's insufficient language resources had contributed to its inability to anticipate and prevent the attacks. Several government reports, including those resulting from inquiries by the 9/11 Commission, warned that the military and intelligence communities did not have enough linguists and translators on staff to sustain a full-scale counterterrorism effort (Nad. Commission 78, 92). The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) similarly found that, at the FBI, "shortages of language-proficient staff have resulted in the accumulation of thousands of hours of audiotapes and pages of writing material that have not been reviewed or translated" (14). In this same January 2002 report, the GAO concluded that the Army did not have "the linguistic capacity to support two concurrent major theaters of war, as planners require" (15). From the perspective of these independent reviewers, the federal government had allowed this "language crisis" to emerge by failing to assess both its language capabilities and its language needs in the midst of an unstable international security environment.

The DoD leadership identified three primary reasons leading to this national security "language crisis." First, several DoD self-studies revealed that a narrow understanding of "language skills" and "language needs" has long been ingrained in U.S. military culture. In the 2004 National Security Strategy report, DoD officials noted that in many instances, U.S. Combatant Commanders think about the military's language needs solely in terms of the Ed Hardy Boots linguists who translate intelligence-related texts.

These commanders, the report concluded, "lack understanding of the multiple dimensions of language capability" that they could deploy while planning and executing military operations.2 Moreover, U.S. command structures have been based on a deep-rooted bias in the military culture that does not regard language competencies as "warfighting skills" (U.S. Dept. of Defense, Defense 2005, 3). This lack of understanding and this bias have led to language skills and cultural knowledge not being listed as important qualifications for officers assigned to Combatant Commanders' staffs; in turn, the military has not prioritized language education in its officer training programs. Equally as significant, Combatant Commanders have ignored opportunities to add to their planning staffs those personnel who already hold relevant language abilities, especially Foreign Area Officers, who possess a unique combination of combat skills; deep knowledge of a region's culture, politics, and economics; and advanced proficiency in speaking, listening, and reading at least one language in a wide range of military, diplomatic, and civic contexts.

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