There are quite a few ways to become a linguist in the Army if you do not already speak a foreign language. The most important thing you need to do, whether you are currently already in the Army as an enlisted Soldier, commissioned officer, warrant officer, or a civilian getting ready to start the process of joining, is take the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB). The word "battery" in this case simply means "test". If you cannot score 95 or above, the rest of the process is moot because the Army will not send you to the Defense Language Institute (DLI).
Category I - score of 95 - Danish, Dutch, French, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish
Category II - score of 100 - German- Indonesian and Romanian
Category III - score 105 - Albanian, Amharic, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cambodian, Czech, Persian, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Lao, Russian, Lithuanian, Polish, Swahili, Tagalong, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese
Category IV - score 110 or better - Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean
Training at DLI is extremely costly for the Department of Defense and the attrition rate is very high, so they want to ensure that you have the potential to learn a new foreign language.
The DLAB supposedly tests your mind's ability to grasp the concept of a foreign language and takes about two gut-wrenching hours to complete. The DLAB is very difficult to study for and is often considered one of the most difficult academic tests the Army administers for this reason. I will tell you from personal experience at DLI that a higher DLAB score does not necessarily equate to doing well in the language. Personally, I only scored a 98 (back then the entrance requirements for each language were slightly lower, so I was able to get into PF) and yet graduated DLI with the highest proficiency you could score at the time. Others in my class with DLAB scores well into the mid 100s failed the course within the first few weeks. It's more a matter of dedication once you make it to DLI than it is how well you scored on the entrance exam.
To even take the test you will most likely have to submit a DA form 4187 (Personnel Action) signed by your commander. For new Soldiers, your recruiter will take care of this for you. Click here for an example 4187 for DLAB (obviously you will have to change the addresses in the THRU/TO/FROM boxes).
The concept of the DLAB is to give you a made up foreign language and have you attempt to correctly answer questions in a variety of fashions. Below is one example of how you might be tested:
So the question you need to ask yourself next is, "how can I study for this?" The answer, of course, is "not very easily." I will, however, try to guide you in the right direction.
The first thing you need to do is make sure you get enough sleep the night before and you are able to concentrate during the exam. It's a relatively long exam, and it racks your brain. If you aren't getting good sleep or you're tired it will be hard to concentrate. Since I mentioned above that the listening portion of the exam does not repeat and culminates, if you miss the instructions for one grammatical rule you could potentially make a mistake on the remainder of the questions.
Another really important puzzle piece is knowing your English grammar definitions really well. If the definition of one of the made-up grammatical rules is "conjunctions can be placed anywhere in a sentence" and you don't know what a conjunction is, you will miss the question. This is (hopefully) less of an issue for civilians coming right out of high school or college because they should be constantly exposed to these things. However, for prior service who have been in the Army for quite some time and have been away from English grammar for years, this is crucial to study.
Lastly, I located a short study guide on the internet. Here is a link to the sample of the study guide, but please ignore a lot of the administrative data because it is outdated and focus just on the practice questions. Alternatively, you can buy the full study guide for $30 here in hard copy. They also have a Kindle version, but it's $10 more. I am not affiliated with this website whatsoever. I only found it on Google, just like you. I haven't actually read their study guide, but it gets decent reviews (aside from complaints about the cost). However, it's only about 45 pages long.
I've also compiled some websites that teach you English Grammar:
1. Guide to Grammar and Writing
2. Basics of English Grammar
Not only will learning English grammar help you dramatically on the DLAB, but it will help you at DLI as well, because the majority of the instructors use the same definitions to explain the new language to you.
Please leave your comments below regarding your experiences in taking the DLAB!
When you're done doing that, feel free to move on to Part 2 (getting a security clearance).
If you have questions, please feel free to visit the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.
Main Page | About This Page | Regulatory Guidance | Language Maintenance Resources | Major Changes Coming Eff. Feb 14! | History of Linguists | Becoming an Army Linguist | Foreign Language Proficiency Bonus | Re-classifying into 35P via DA 4187 | 35P MOS Requirements| Re-certification of DLPT While Deployed | Failing Your DLPT| Language Difficulty Categories / Minimum DLAB Scores | Foreign Language Codes | Acronyms | In Memory of Fallen Linguists | Ask a Question / Provide Site Feedback