Language Matters

Kathleen Stein Smith, Ph.D

Sacré bleu! Britain’s defence at risk over cuts to foreign language speakers

“BRITAIN’S defences are being harmed by a lack of foreign language speakers in the armed forces, with just FIFTEEN specialist Russian speakers to help counter the threat from Moscow, it has emerged.

New figures released by the Ministry of Defence show UK generals are relying on fewer than 700 linguists to help interpret and translate both on the battlefield and behind the lines.

The MoD has a total of 697 servicemen and women with a proficiency in foreign languages at basic level or above.

But just 132 of those are deemed to be ‘expert’ linguists, while 301 are registered as ‘professional.

A further 264 are ‘functional’ in a second language.

Interpreters employed by the British armed services speak a total of 48 languages, including Mandarin, Pashto and Arabic.

However, MPs have criticised the ‘long-standing neglect of the MoD’s most basic tasks in assuring the Defence of the Realm”.

Just 51 linguists are considered to have specialist knowledge of Arabic and 149 speak the language of our closest neighbour and key ally, France.

A member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, the Scottish National Party’s Douglas Chapman, said the lack of Russian speakers was particularly worrying.”

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Languages do matter!


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