Intelligence: Parle Vous Bonus


February 19, 2008: The U.S. military is refining its Foreign Language Proficiency Bonus Program, shifting the bonus money around to different languages. One of the more interesting changes is paying the monthly bonus only when the language is used. For example, the U.S. Navy will now pay French speaking sailors an extra $500 a month if they are involved in a part of the world (like Africa) where French is a common second language. This is a contingent (on having to actually use the skill) bonus. In the past, the bonuses were only paid for those who had passed a proficiency exam, and spoke a language the military had few translators for. In particular, Arabic, Pushto and Farsi (the last two are common in Afghanistan) are still in great demand. But the old system paid the troops that $500 a month whether they were using their language still or not.

Then the navy took a survey and found that nearly ten percent of their active duty force and reservists spoke two or more languages. Many of those language skills are ones, like French and Spanish, that are not in critically short supply. But now that the navy is doing a lot more disaster relief work (great PR, helps people in need, and provides everyone with some useful experience), and these are often in areas where the locals speak French or Spanish, there is a need for more translators. The navy also has a lot of foreign born sailors, from dozens of different countries that might, someday, be visited by the navy. The contingent bonus program is thus an incentive for all those with good foreign language skills to take the test. If nothing else, it shows up on your service record as another skill, which aids promotion. And when the sailor gets out, the "Navy Certified Linguist" looks good on a resume.


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