How to Become an Army Linguist

By: Danielle Fisher  | 
Army linguist
Spc. Benjamin Weston is a Russian linguist with the Army's 1st Military Intelligence Battalion, 66th Military Intelligence Brigade.
U.S. Army/Jennifer Clampet

Wouldn't you love to get paid to go to school to learn a language and then travel the world with your new-found knowledge? Did you know the U.S. Army will pay you to do just that? As an Army linguist, you could get paid to learn one of 24 different languages, as well as travel to several foreign countries to serve as a translator or a cryptologist [source:]. So, if you're already fluent in multiple languages -- or you're adept at learning new ones -- a career as an Army linguist may be just what you're looking for.

Communicating with citizens of other countries and understanding their culture is paramount to many of the Army's efforts -- not just in its defensive operations, but in its humanitarian missions, as well. If you meet the criteria for one of the many positions under the linguist umbrella, the Army will pay you well for your skills. In addition to the standard benefits you would receive as a soldier, as a linguist you would also qualify for Foreign Language Proficiency Pay, which could add an additional $400 to $1,000 a month to your paycheck for each language you're proficient in [source:].


So what if you're not fluent in any languages other than English, and you're still interested in becoming a linguist? Because there's a high demand for linguists in every aspect of foreign military exchanges, including intelligence, negotiations, special operations and more, even if you have no previous training, the Army is still interested in you if you have a knack for learning languages [source:]. The Army trains soldiers at its Defense Language Institute at no cost to the recruits. In fact, the soldiers are paid a full salary and provided housing and benefits, including a retirement plan, while attending school [source:].

Another benefit of training at the Defense Language Institute is the potential to earn an associate's degree if you transfer 15 non-language credits from another accredited institution. This degree can help you go further with your career while you're enlisted and once you are discharged. Next we'll discuss what types of jobs the Army offers for linguists.


Army Linguist Jobs

As we mentioned before, linguists are needed for every aspect of the military, including intelligence, negotiations and special operations. And as an Army linguist, you will be asked to read, write, understand and speak a foreign language. The Army may ask you to perform a variety of tasks using your language skills, including everything from face-to-face, audio or document translation in all types of negotiations.

If you want your language to be the sole purpose of your job, you should look into a career as an interpreter/translator or a cryptologic linguist. The Army classifies these careers as "language dependent" [source:]. As an interpreter/translator for the Army, you would be responsible for translating both oral and written communications and participating in or leading language and cultural awareness training. You must be fluent in at least one of more than 20 Middle Eastern languages, including Farsi, Dari and Pushtu-Afghan [source:].


Cryptologic linguists specialize in any language they choose, and are mostly responsible for detecting and identifying foreign communications using signals equipment. This may include general information, mission-specific reporting or tips due to changes in communication, as well as translating transcripts of foreign communication recordings [source:].

If you're talented in languages, but you don't want them to be the focus of your career, there are many other opportunities within the Army linguist program, including Signals Intelligence Analyst, Human Intelligence Collector, Imagery Analyst or Intelligence Analyst. While these positions still require fluency in a foreign language, responsibilities include non-language skills such as visual surveillance, information collection through special operations or interrogations, and analysis of the enemy's capabilities, vulnerabilities, and plans of action [source:].

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Before you can apply for any of these positions, you have to meet several stringent requirements for inclusion in the Army linguist program. We'll learn more about these criteria on the next page.


Army Linguist Requirements

Soldier with Afghan instructor
Soldiers in the intensive language training with native Afghan instructors, organized by the Defense Language Institute, spend six hours a day learning how to read, write and construct sentences.
U.S. Army/Spc. Breanne Pye

Before you're considered for a job as an Army linguist, you must take a test to prove your level of competency in language skills. The Defense Language Aptitude Battery determines how well you can learn a new language if you're a native English speaker. You must score a 105 or higher (out of 176) if you hope to attend the Army's Defense Language Institute [source:]. If you're already fluent in a second language, you must prove your skill level through a Defense Language Proficiency Test or an Oral Proficiency Interview, scoring a 2/2 or higher.

If English is your second language, you must also prove your fluency in the English language, and you could be sent to school to sharpen your skills. If English is not your native language, you must also prove your citizenship to be considered for a job as an Army linguist. And top secret security clearance is also required. This involves a background check and interviews with your family and friends to determine if you are capable of working with and protecting classified national security information. Finally, you must have normal color vision; you cannot be color blind as an Army linguist [source:].


Of course, to become an Army linguist, you must enlist in the Army, which requires you meet a separate set of requirements: You need a high school diploma or the equivalent (GED), and you must also be in "good moral standing," good health and physical condition, and between the ages of 17 and 35 [source:].

Frequently Answered Questions

Are linguists in demand in the military?
Linguists are in high demand in the military. They play a vital role in communications and help the military to better understand the cultures of the people they are interacting with.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "About Army Linguists." (April 7, 2011)
  • "All About Security Clearances." U.S. Department of State. (April 19, 2011)
  • "Defense Language Aptitude Battery." K12 Academics. (April 19, 2011)
  • "Defense Language Institute." (April 7, 2011)
  • "Enlisted Soldiers." (April 7, 2011)
  • "Increasing Demand For Army Linguists Means Money." April 16, 2011. (April 16, 2011)
  • Joyner, James. "Army Linguists Net $150,000 Bonus." Outside the Beltway. Aug. 5, 2008. (April 7, 2011)
  • "Language Programs." (April 7, 2011)
  • "Linguist." (April 7, 2011)
  • "Linguist Careers and Jobs." (April 7, 2011)