DLI: We learn foreign language so you don’t have to

Which US government agency is most interested in vocal about foreign language training?

a) The Department of Education

b) The Department of State

3) The Defense Department

The answer is #3. The US has no national foreign language education standards or curriculum. But the Defense Department is adamant in its need for funds to train military in foreign languages. I completely agree that the armed forces need to be multilingual. Heck, we have three wars right now in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq and the military is desperate for speakers of Arabic, Dari, Farsi and Pashtun.

The Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California is the place where military go to learn a foreign language all day five days a week for six to 12 month intensive programs. They even use Arabic Sesame Street to entertain and educate Arabic language students in Arabic. So I’m not the only one singing the praises of non-English Sesame Street.

DLI’s t-shirt motto: We learn foreign languages so you don’t have to

I couldn’t help but ask this college student I met at the San Jose Library (in California) to take the photo of his t-shirt that proudly said “We learn foreign languages so you don’t have to”. I had a laugh a I know the T-shirt slogan is in jest. But it points to the lack of interest in foreign languages in the US: we’ll learn it if we’re forced to and to protect you (the citizens) from foreign attack.

We need to change from a defensive stance on why it’s important to being multilingual to hailing the values for everyday citizens to know more than one language.




  1. You missed the mark a bit on the ” We learn foreign languages so you don’t have to” slogan. The term gests that our military linguists learn foreign languages so that America does not someday become invaded and occupied by a foreign power (think China).u00a0u00a0In such au00a0 case, the Chinese would most certainly force Americans to learn Chinese. But the intel ouru00a0linguists gather andu00a0meaningfully compile ensures that weu00a0will never “have to”u00a0 – DLI Graduate in Serbo-Croatian ’99.nn-

    • Brian, I completely agree with your response. My reaction to this tag line is similar to yours. What I wold think that DLI, being aworld class language center for teaching foreign languages, would want to ipromote the idea that everyone should learn a foreign language, not just the military few. As a DLI Arabic alumni, I would love to order a DLI T-shirt but I not with that tagline. It is insulting to foreigners and arrogant. I wish they would just take that tagline of and DLI should rethink that tagline. DLI Graduate in Arabic ’73

      • I don’t think it’s meant to be insulting or arrogant. They aren’t necessarily promoting the idea that only the military should learn foreign languages; They even host language events now for the locals to come learn about other cultures to try to get them interested in foreign languages.
        I think the tagline is more of a way to remind people who are in training status there for a year or more who get frustrated and lose sight of why they are even there to be reminded of the big picture…. to be reminded that they are learning that language for a purpose.
        And I think that learning an entire language in that short amount of time deserves a tad of arrogance. 🙂 But that’s just my humble opinion.
        -DLI grad Korean ’05, Turkish ’12

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