Building Language Skills and Cultural Competencies in the Military: DOD's Challenge in Today's Educational Environment   [open pdf - 6MB]

"The military's lack of language skills and cultural expertise is a symptom of the larger problem facing the nation as a whole. As we heard in our hearings, our educational system does not place a priority on, and lacks the infrastructure to support, the widespread teaching of foreign languages, not to mention the less commonly taught languages needed by today's force. Very few states even require language study at all. This significantly limits the pool from which the Department of Defense [DOD] can recruit linguistically-able personnel and greatly increases the Department's challenge. Consequently, the Department finds itself in the unlikely position of advancing a national educational agenda that encourages states to recognize the importance of language skills and cultural awareness, not only to meet national security needs, but for the United States to remain competitive in the global marketplace, and for states to provide basic services to their citizens. [...]. We found that the Department and the Services have undertaken numerous initiatives, but we are left with several important questions. For example, the Department set a goal of creating foundational language and cultural skills in the force. Yet, the Services' primary efforts appear to be far more aimed at developing a culturally aware force than a linguistically capable one. The difference between the Department's goal and the Services' approach calls into question whether the two even agree on what they are trying to accomplish. The Department must work even more closely with the Services to achieve a common understanding of the language skills needed in today's force."

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