2006, Volume 1
E-Book pps 50-60
English for Military Purposes in the Age
of Information Technology
The writer of this paper served for twenty
four and a half years (1981 - 2005) as
a uniformed education officer in the Royal
Air Force of Oman teaching EFL, ESP and
English for Military Purposes. He was
personally awarded the Distinguished Service
Medal by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.
Prior to service in Oman, he worked in
British Further Education, teaching English
and EFL. He now works in Saudi Arabia,
teaching cadets from the Royal Saudi Air
Force at the Technical Studies Institute
B.A. (Southampton); Post Graduate Certificate
(Southampton); M. Sc. (Aston); M. App.
paper offers an insider's view of English
for Military Purposes (EMP). It suggests
that international security concerns have
moved away from the Cold War scenario
of recognizable enemies facing each other,
into a realm where established state forces
face more nebulous threats and a growing
role as providers of humanitarian assistance.
Against this background, there is an increasing
need for effective communication between
and among multi-national forces, and English
has become the channel of that communication.
The paper then explores the different
approaches to EMP that can be seen in
America (the American Language Course)
and Britain (the Partnership for Peace).
It concludes by suggesting that the impact
of information technology will force current
providers of EMP to re-examine their methodology.
Key words. English for Military
Purposes (EMP), Partnership for Peace,
paper is a possibly doomed attempt to
look into the future. By examining the
changing roles of the Armed Forces at
the start of the 21st century, I hope
to suggest how those roles are likely
to develop in the course of the next 20
years. I also intend to examine the two
principal current models of teaching English
for Military Purposes (EMP) before demonstrating
the extent top which information technology
is likely to impact on the materials,
the students and the instructors.
Multiskilling has been with us for some
time, but it has acquired a new significance
in the post-Cold War World. Woods (2004)
cites Zapatista who claims that we are
already involved in the Fourth World war.
His argument is that after two "hot"
wars - World War I and World War II -
there was the Cold War which acted as
a Third World war. The USA and the Soviet
Union fought each other by proxy, frequently
using covert approaches to remove or install
governments, and sometimes using open
methods of war - Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia
These wars were easily understood, and
the part played in them by national armies
was obvious, and was intended to be obvious.
The Fourth World war is more opaque. It
is based on international co-operation,
often between states that seem to have
little in common, and it is waged against
"anti-state" forces - international
drug dealers; international "terrorists",
however the latter are defined. (Al Qimam
In this climate, multiskilling is a sensible
approach. To begin with, it is cost effective.
During the Cold war, the USA was able
to afford the luxury of having one man
do only one job, and at NATO HQ in Brussels,
the Americans indulged that luxury. The
US Army employed Master Typists - note,
NOT clerks - whose only job was to type
correspondence. If there was no correspondence
to be typed, these men sat idle.
Even American military funding, however,
must have a limit, and it is obviously
more cost effective to train, say, a computer
operator who can employ a range of clerking
skills, or avionics technicians who can
follow assimilation training and work
with Flight Systems, Communications and
Secondly, multiskilling adds to the professional
pride of military personnel. Russia is
now almost unique in maintaining a huge,
badly disciplined, poorly led conscript
army. Their casualties in Chechnya are
testimony to this. NATO forces are almost
exclusively professional. They are trained
to react to different situations, and
proud of their own expertise. These forces
do not aspire to be anything but the best.
They are trained to regard their military
service as a challenging role that sets
them apart from civilians.
This leads to what Woods (2004; 27) terms
the "jargon word" of interoperability.
indicates the ability of military, paramilitary
and security forces, from different
linguistic and national backgrounds,
to work together for a common aim.
of course, we have seen military-led international
relief efforts on a massive scale in the
wake of the December 2004 tsunami. The
response of certain countries was controversial,
and some political pundits were quick
to raise suspicions of ulterior motives.
The plain fact of the matter, however,
is that with the best will in the world,
civilian agencies working on their own
would have been unable to cope with any
natural disaster that killed some 300,000
people in a matter of hours, over so large
an area of the globe.
What has also been interesting has been
the extent to which international military
forces had to liaise with each other and
the shortcomings that the tsunami revealed.
To begin with, Sri Lanka openly admitted
that its own military and security forces
were overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster.
Within hours, Sri Lankan paramilitary
forces had been deployed to dispose of
corpses and prevent the spread of disease.
After that, American, British, Canadian,
Indian and Pakistani forces were dispatched
to aid the Sri Lankans, but even this
move was controversial. The Canadian authorities
were alarmed to find that it took 11 days
before their Disaster Assistance Response
Team (DART) was able to land supplies
in the field. (Hobson 2005)
In Indonesia, moreover, the complete devastation
of the civilian infrastructure in Aceh
province brought other complications.
Outside relief agencies, both civil and
military, found that they were arriving
in a former war zone, but that there were
no remaining local authorities. Liaison
was difficult, and the Indonesian military
forces were suspicious.
The American forces, in particular, had
difficulty grasping the complexities of
the situation. One American officer, writing
from the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln,
felt that the role of the Indonesian liaison
officers on board was "to encourage
our leaving as soon as possible. They
want our money and help, but they don't
want their population to see that the
Americans are doing far more for them
in two weeks than their own government
has ever done for them." (Sherwell
and Gilmore; 2004)
The free Aceh Movement might well agree
with those sentiments, but they might
also recognize the irony of American troops
"saving the lives of their people,
some of whom wear Bin Laden T-shirts as
they grab at our food and water"
(Sherwell and Gilmore; 2004)
And there's the rub. One person's terrorist
is another's freedom fighter. The massive
international outpouring of funds to help
in the tsunami relief programme shows
that this type of humanitarian operation
enjoys almost universal support. In democratic
countries, however, there may be genuine
libertarian concerns about the use of
government money to stifle (possibly legitimate)
dissent, and there may even be disquiet
about the spending of public money on
the types of covert action that are required
to counteract the operations of international
There is the added difficulty, of course,
when criminal organizations become interconnected
with government agencies, to the extent
that governments themselves become criminal.
In 1998 I gave a paper at the IATEFL SIG
Symposium in Gdansk (McBeath 1998; 1999)
in which I drew attention to the fact
that Jordanian troops were part of the
then ECOMOG forces in West Africa, and
that at the same time, the UAE had dispatched
military assistance to Macedonia, working
with civilian refugees from the Kosovo
conflict. In both these case, Arab forces
were engaged in interoperability, liaising
not only with military forces, but also
with local government agencies and international
non-government agencies like Medecins
Sans Frontieres, the Red Crescent and
the Red Cross.
In both West Africa and Kosovo, the international
community had sanctioned the deployment
of multi-national forces because national
governments had shown themselves either
unable or unwilling to maintain peace.
These actions had impacted negatively
on the stability of neighbouring countries,
and it was in the interest of the global
community that some semblance of civil
order be restored.
In both instances, moreover, the respiration
of civil order depended on effective liaison,
and that could only be accomplished through
an international language, and that language
At a time when the ownership of English
is under increasing scrutiny, and when
separate "Englishes" are attested
in linguistic literature (Kachru 1986;
Collins and Blair 1989; McArthur 1998;
Bautista and Bolton 2004) it is interesting
that the teaching of English for Military
Purposes is still
rooted in only two, and two contrasting,
Effectively, EMP is taught in different
ways by the Americans and by the British.
In Britain, the social class base of the
officer corps has always been such that
at least partial knowledge of a language
other than English could be taken for
granted. Traditionally, British officer
cadets have come from middle, upper-middle
class or aristocratic backgrounds, and
have entered the Royal Military Academy
at Sandhurst, or the former Royal Naval
Academy at Greenwich from fee-paying,
This has guaranteed at least limited knowledge
of a classical language (Latin, sometimes
with Greek) and a modern (European) language.
Indeed, in the 19th Century, the introduction
of the teaching of modern languages in
the English Public Schools was, in part,
driven by the demands of the Sandhurst
Secondly, the British army has always
valued linguistic ability. Officers serving
in India were encouraged to learn Hindustani.
Those serving with Gurkha regiments were
obliged to learn Gurkhali (Masters; 1956).
Swahili was used as a command language
in British East Africa (Calvet; 1998).
During the Malay Emergency of the 1950's,
bonus payments were authorized for officers
who had learnt Malay, and at the same
time, the Joint Services School for Linguists
trained British national servicemen in
Russian listening skills, allowing them
to monitor Soviet ground-to-air conversations
from the listening post of West Berlin.
Even today, British officers on secondment
to Arab states receive additional allowances
for demonstrating a command of Arabic.
In America, by contrast, the tradition
of languages for military purposes only
dates back to the Second World War. Crawford
(1997) quotes Pete King, a republican
Member of the House of Representatives
as saying "For the first 180 years
of our Nation, we were bound together
by a common language. Immigrants came
to this country knowing that they had
to learn English."
This is historical nonsense. Even excluding
indigenous Amerindian languages, the USA
has no history of monolingualism. Benjamin
Franklin, in a letter dated May 9th 1753,
objects to the influence of German in
"Few of their children in the Country
learn English; they import Books from
Germany; and of the six printing houses
in the Province, two are entirely German;
two half German half English; and two
entirely English; They have one German
newspaper and one half German" (Cited
in Labaree 1961; 494).
The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 added French
speakers to the territory controlled by
the USA. The annexation of Las Floridas
from Spain in 1831 added the first sizeable
number of Spanish speakers. Subsequent
gains following the Mexican-American war
of 1848 added "a vast territory -
including California, Arizona, New Mexico
and parts of Colorado - and also approved
the prior annexation of Texas. All citizens
of Mexico residing within this territory
automatically became US citizens, as long
as they did not leave the territory within
one year of the treaty ratification."
(Schmid 2001; 27)
Whether these Spanish speakers became
equal citizens of the USA is, however,
open to question. Mackey (1983) has pointed
out that in the former Mexican territories,
boundaries were altered and statehood
withheld until a majority of English speakers
was assured. California, therefore, became
a state in 1850, while Nevada waited until
1864; Colorado until 1876; Utah until
1896 and New Mexico until 1912.
By 1900, moreover, "nativism and
antiforeign political sentiment began
to surface" (Kersing, Boulware and
Foley 1997; 9). Kloss (1977) estimates
that at the beginning of the 20th Century,
over 6 percent of American primary education
was conducted in German. By the end of
the First World War, however, anti-German
sentiment had produced a climate in which
the teaching of any language other than
English was deemed unpatriotic.
The decline of language teaching in the
inter-war years (Ricento 1996; 132-137)
resulted in so serious a lack of military
personnel who could read, write, speak
or understand even European languages
that in December 1942, the Army Specialized
Training Program had to be established.
By April 1943 it had enrolled 15,000 trainees,
and by August 1943 it was offering 19
different courses, some of them in the
so-called "exotic" languages
of South-East Asia (Spolsky 1995). These
courses were remarkable for both the speed
of their establishment and for their intensity,
with Davies (1996) citing instances of
classes that received 10 hours of instruction
In the Post-War world, it was a simple
matter for both the British and American
training authorities to reduce their intake
of students, and add English to the list
of courses offered. Indeed, in this respect,
the British were better placed to act,
having already offered EMP instruction
to the Free Czech, Dutch, French, Norwegian
and Polish forces at the Combined Services
School (Lowe and Lowe; 1965).
As a result, the Army School of Languages
at Beaconsfield and the Lackland Air Force
Base at San Antonio, Texas, became centres
of military English teaching, attracting
broadly similar students, but working
from different linguistic traditions.
Beaconsfield offers instruction to students
from the British Commonwealth, from Europe,
and from Arab states such as Bahrain,
Jordan, Oman and Qatar, whose ruling families
have links with Sandhurst. Since the collapse
of the Soviet Union, moreover, Beaconsfield
had liaised with, and supported, the British
Council's Partnership for peace initiatives.
The Lackland Air Force Base also attracts
Arab students; primarily from Saudi Arabia,
but recently from the UAE and Oman as
part of the F-16 programs. Primarily,
however, the Lackland Air Force Base's
Defense Language Center has been responsible
for teaching the American Language Course
to personnel from Puerto Rico, South and
Central America, South Korea and Japan.
American Language Course.
title of this course is significant, but
is easily explained. Portes and Rumbaut
(1996; 194) state that "In the United
States the acquisition of nonaccented
English and the dropping of foreign languages
is the litmus test of Americanization."
The irony here is that Labov (1966), Dillard
(1992) and Lippi-Green (1997) convincingly
demonstrate that both class and regional
accents survive among American speakers
of English, and that they are still very
useful to those who wish to discriminate.
The ALC, however, ignores this data. The
ALC is based on the premise that there
is "one best way" (Woods 2004;
28) to teach languages. Doyle (2004; 125)
rejects the concept that "one teaching
model need be regarded as superior to
the other" and that is without considering
that the supposed best way is based on
the audio-lingual theories that were current
in the 1960's.
There is obviously debate about this.
The early enthusiasts for the audio-lingual
approach made claims for the efficacy
of programmed learning (Bung 1970; 1973;
1974) and language laboratories that have
been largely disproved by experience.
On the other hand, within its own parameters,
the American Language Course works. It
is method driven, based on tried and tested
techniques and can be assessed against
the benchmark American Language Course
Placement test (ALCPT). Broadly speaking,
students who attend courses at the Defense
Language Institute and who plough through
the 36 volumes of the ALC, five hours
a day, six days a week, will make gains
of some 3 percent to 5 percent on their
ALCPT scores for every book they finish.
This is quantifiable data. It satisfies
many of the stakeholders in the teaching
process, and in the present political
situation, where the USA is the world's
only superpower, there is no need for
the DLI to change its approach.
By contrast, the British Council's Partnership
for Peace approach is based on context
sensitive ESP. It rejects the idea that
there is one best way, and concentrates
its attention on the particular needs
of the personnel receiving instruction.
More importantly, it takes the instruction
to the personnel, and in this respect
it is completely different from the ALC.
The success rate of the ALC is probably
dependent on the instruction being based
in Texas. Learning English in an immersion
setting partly justifies the amount of
time that the ALC devotes to the American
Way of Life - a way of life that is based
in small town America and which seems
to have changed little since the Eisenhower
years. Outside America, of course, the
inclusion of this type of material justifies
Al Ghamdi's (1989) belief that the ALC
is culturally insensitive.
The Partnership for Peace, on the other
hand, is prepared to tailor materials
to the very different requirements of
the Hungarian Air Force, or the Rumanian
police and Border Guards. In line with
the example of Mellor-Clark and Baker
de Altamirano's (2004) award winning Campaign;
English for the Military the materials
are military from the outset, whereas
the ALC remains primarily a General English
course, onto which some (and not much)
military language has been grafted.
One example will suffice. In the American
Language Course, Book 26, Pp. 19-20 we
are given a dialogue between two, presumably
American, officers. In fact, their rank
is irrelevant, and they might as well
be civilians, as the dialogue is centred
on one man's concern for his sick grandmother.
The dialogue has been created for the
express purpose of presenting some lexis
in context. It is clear that students
will later be tested on their knowledge
of that lexis, but only in the context
modeled in the dialogue.
To prepare for this type of test, therefore,
both the author and the syllabus accept
that there is "one best way".
They also collude in the fiction that
officers in the American forces engage
in a stilted "stage speech",
without any of the infelicities that mark
Finally, the students are asked to believe
that an American military officer, living
in an age when hand-held, code scrambled
military phones are taken into combat,
still communicates with his family members
by using the US Mail.
Impact of IT.
This segues neatly into my final section,
on the impact of IT on EFL/ESP/EMP, and
there are two issues here. The first concerns
availability, and the second the speed
of technological change.
In exactly the same way that the audio-lingual
lobby made overstated claims for the magic
properties of the language laboratory,
so the initial claims for Computer Assisted
Language Learning (CALL) often oversold
the advantages. Unfortunately, early enthusiasts
for CALL forgot that many people in the
teaching profession were deeply skeptical
of another technology-based approach.
(McBeath 1994). Having invested heavily
in reel-to-reel language laboratories,
only to see them replaced by cassette
players and CD players, much of their
wariness was understandable.
Secondly, many of the CALL programs that
were on offer either did little that could
not be done with conventional teaching
aids or were at too high a level for general
use. The first objection remains a problem
with in-house CALL materials. Is a multiple
choice grammar test greatly enhanced if
programmed firework displays celebrate
every correct answer? Many would say not.
In the case of the second objections,
concordancing programs of the type espoused
by Johns' (Al Sahrigy 1989; Johns 1997)
turned out to be most effective with advanced
level EAP students. Willis and Willis
(1998) used the "real English"
approach based on the findings of the
COBUILD Project, but they relied on books,
not on IT.
Then there was the problem of physically
teaching some students how to use the
hardware. The computer based TOEFL test
actually gives a tutorial before displaying
the test items - showing the candidates
how to use the mouse, how to scroll up
and down the page and how to move from
page to page. Even so, the difference
in score between those candidates who
are computer literate and those who require
the tutorial is estimated to be 14 percent
With the passage of time, this problem
may begin to disappear. In 2002, the Economist
stated that "almost all teachers
and pupils have at least one computer
at home these days" (October 26th,
2002, P.13). At that time, this was an
absurdly optimistic suggestion, even for
Great Britain. Only the year before, Carballo-Calero
(2001) had stated that for EFL teachers
in Spain, regardless of level, Internet
access was mostly regarded as a luxury.
At the same time, Paran (2002) quoted
the case of a student from Venezuela who
had no phone line at home and who shared
computer access "between thousands
of students and staff for an hour or so
each day" (P. 7)
More recently, however, The Economist
(September 25, 2004, P. 15) reported that
the world's largest market for mobile
phones was China, and the largest growth
area was Africa. There was no suggestion
that these were the older, housebrick-sized
phones that are illustrated in New Headway
Intermediate (Soars and Soars 1996). Second
generation mobile phones allow internet
access. More importantly, they allow text
messaging. The future lies with IT, and
access to IT is rapidly spreading downwards
through the socioeconomic classes.
This leads us to what Davis (2002/2003;
53) refers to as a "power shift,
from the adults to the kids, the true
cognoscenti of the new information technologies."
In future we will be able to assume that
military recruits are IT literate, in
the same way that we currently assume
that they are print literate at a basic
level. This will not mean that they are
experts in the use of IT, but they will
be functionally literate - they will be
able to do a certain number of tasks,
and they will not be technophobic.
This will mean, for example, that they
will be able to cope with teaching materials
like Stirling's (2004) English for telephoning.
This is an interactive CD-Rom - note,
NOT a book - which has been devised for
students of English for Business Purposes
(EBP). English for telephoning assumes
that its target audience has reasonably
fast keyboarding skills, with the result
that many of the exercises are really
rather too fast for those who have not
followed a\basic Business Communications
This is interesting, because as with Emmerson's
(2004) e-mail English, communication practices
in the world of business are actually
evolving faster than EBP courses can catch
up. In most offices, IT is taken for granted,
and used as a matter of routine. In many
EBP coursebooks, however, IT is used for
illustration, while its impact on writing
styles and the development of new genres
is ignored (O'Driscoll and Scott-Barrett
1995; Hopkins and Potter 1997; Sweeney
2000; Robbins 2000).
English for Military Purposes cannot afford
to wait and then play catch-up. Nor, indeed,
are its leading practitioners prepared
to do so. Aliksar, Soomere and Woods (2004)
report that, as early as 1999, the Partnership
for Peace project in Lithuania produced
a CD-ROM on Tactical English for Peace
Support Operations. They are currently
developing another CD-ROM, this time on
International Humanitarian Law.
If these materials are effective, then
we may be seeing the end of the multi-volume
EFL/ESP/EAP/EMP "book based"
course. This is a development foreseen
by Al Ebraheem (2002/2003; 107) who states
"traditional teaching methods will
become incompatible with the demands of
a knowledge-based economy". He is
not alone in this assessment. Bill Gates
has openly stated that in the USA, traditional
"high schools are obsolete
they were designed 50 years ago to meet
the needs of another age. Today, even
when they work exactly as designed, our
high schools cannot teach our kids what
they need to know." (Gates 2005)
In short, for the 21st Century, we must
be prepared to teach new things in new
ways, and the first steps are already
being taken along that path. Computer
Adaptive Testing has proved that it can
cut down the amount of time required to
allocate students to appropriate levels
of instruction, as the program reacts
to each answer and calibrates the test
to the level of ability demonstrated by
Under these circumstances, we are not
far from the day when we will be able
to give the Final examination on the first
day of the course, identify students'
individual areas of weakness, and tailor
materials to their specific needs.
This, then, is the way of the future.
Well-motivated, highly trained, professional
soldiers have been found to be more effective
in battle than mass waves of badly trained
conscripts. Creeping artillery barrages
are things of the past. IT based surveillance
techniques now allow field commanders
to pinpoint enemy strong points, and then
launch attacks that will have maximum
In the same way, and despite the American
Language Course, the use of context specific
materials which enjoy high face validity
will always be more effective than the
one-size-fits-all approach. Armed Forces
operate in uniform, but they do not require
uniformity in language training.
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