Foreign languages

According to my experience, it only requires the knowledge of about 2,000 words and basic understanding of grammar of a foreign language for basic communication with foreign people. They'll need to slow down and speak clearly to be understood, but once they learn that you have trouble understanding, most will do so.

Well, 2,000 words isn't very much. It takes about seven months to learn them with an average of only 10 new words daily. That shouldn't take more than an average 15 to 30 minutes of daily study including learning grammar, numbers, possibly different alphabet and tests.

It's therefore difficult to understand why so many army officers in the NATO don't even understand Russian and Arab. Russian is well understood at NATO's eastern frontier and Arab is spoken on the southern frontier. As NATO is primarily about collective defense, it should be obvious that these forces should prepare for action in the NATO frontier areas.

Maybe the deficiency is a result of the Cold War. Interaction with civilian population was assumed not to be very relevant in Third World War scenarios (as if they stayed at home and didn't plug all roads in such a case...).

Learning foreign languages should be mandatory for senior NCOs and officers.

NCOs should at least learn basic Russian and basic Arab.
Officers should in addition be required to learn at least one more language, preferably one of these:
- Spanish (spoken in almost all of Latin America and in Spain, of course)
- French (spoken in some parts of Africa and in France, of course)

Besides that, all NATO ground forces soldiers should speak English fluently. It does not only help in civilian life afterwards, but it's after all the NATO-internal language. US and UK forces have a natural advantage here, so their soldiers could easily learn one more language than others, like Spanish in the case of the US forces.

Learning foreign languages helps to reduce friction.
Navigation, interaction with civilians, interaction with allies, understanding different cultures, reading military publications of other countries, first interrogation of prisoners - there are many cases in which foreign language knowledge helps.

Attempts have been made to issue technology to solve the problem of lack of language skills. This is quite usual - an army is incapable of something, the first response is often "What can we buy to solve that?". But that's no solution to the problem, just an embarrassing anecdote. Our soldiers of an alliance should not need technological devices to express very basic messages to people who speak one of the two major languages found next to this alliance. Training is much better than gadgets are.

It's about time for mandatory foreign language skills.

Sven Ortmann

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