Army Linguist: Career Information and Education Requirements

Sep 28, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an army linguist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and testing to find out if this is the career for you.

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Army linguists operate at various levels within the army, and enlisted personnel are required to hold a high school diploma, while officers must hold at least a bachelor's degree. Those who have the aptitude for foreign languages will receive specialized language training to achieve fluency, sometimes in more than one language.

Essential Information

The United States Army deploys linguists to assist with translating and interpreting local languages. Linguists may be assigned to either an office or the field, and oftentimes, at overseas stations. Army linguists do not need to be fluent upon entry to the service; the Defense Language Institute (DLI) provides language training for those interested in attaining fluency. As an added incentive to the standard benefits, the Army awards linguists a bonus for an ongoing demonstrated competency in their specialized language. There are different kinds of linguists, including interpreters, translators and cryptologic linguists. Linguists enjoy all standard Army benefits, as well as added monetary bonuses for their continued demonstrated proficiency in their specialized language.

Required Education High school diploma or GED; Bachelor's degree or higher required for officers
Other Requirements Clearance from background and security tests
Projected Job Growth Military personnel is expected to maintain its current numbers.
Salary (2019) $20,170.80 for enlisted privates who have been in the military less than two years; up to $1000 monthly bonus to active duty soldiers for foreign language proficiency**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **

Career Information

The Army separates its language specialists into two groups: linguists and interpreters/translators. Nearly all linguists will need to be cleared for a Top Secret security clearance, which requires a series of background and security tests.


Linguists are deployed to Army bases all over the world, assisting operations by translating documents. Strategic linguists work in offices, while tactical linguists are sent to assist in the field.

Skilled Linguist Program

Linguists who are already fluent in their specialized language upon entry to the service can enlist as specialists and receive an additional signing bonus. They do not have to attend language training and can receive an assignment immediately.


Those working as interpreters or translators for the Army usually have a working knowledge of more than one language. Their task is to function as the interlocutor between the members of local communities and military personnel, as well as to translate local-level media (newspapers, radio, pamphlets) into English for the Army's Public Affairs Office.

Cryptologic Linguist

Similar to regular linguists, interpreters and translators, cryptologic linguists are also responsible for screening local-level media and providing translations. However, cryptologic linguists are primarily tasked with intercepting private foreign language communications and relaying the information to Army intelligence.

Salary and Benefits

Linguists are rewarded for having specialized language skills with monetary bonuses. The Army will pay linguists up to $1000 a month to active duty soldiers for a demonstrated knowledge of their specialized language. The Army compensates its personnel according to a pay scale, and wages are determined by rank and years of service. For example, the 2019 pay scale had E-1 privates with less than two years of experience earning $20,170.80, while O-1 second lieutenants with less than two years' experience earned a base salary of $38,260.80.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists universal privileges the Army provides to its service members, including free medical and dental care, free housing, subsidized groceries and other living expenses, as well as access to recreational facilities on duty sites. The BLS expected the employment outlook for all armed forces personnel to stay about the same between 2018 and 2028.

Education Requirements

The U.S. Army almost always requires its recruits to have at least a high school diploma or GED. Officers are generally expected to hold a bachelor's degree or higher.


The Army tests its personnel for an inherent language-learning ability with its Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB). Those who score highly will be sent on to complete intensive language training. Later, linguists' knowledge of their specialized language is tested on the Defense Language Proficiency Test. Good scores can amount to monetary bonuses.

The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC)

The DLIFLC, located in Monterey, California, is the Department of Defense's language school. Linguists seeking proficiency in a chosen language will attend a program that might last from several months to over a year. The DLIFLC offers over 24 languages, and both Military Language Instructors and native speakers teach students. The most successful students are awarded opportunities to participate in exchange programs in their country of study. Graduates of the DLIFLC are then assigned positions as linguists, interpreters, translators or cryptologic linguists at any one of the Army's bases around the world.

Army linguists are divided into interpreters, who are not typically required to hold a Top Secret security clearance, and strategic or tactical linguists, who work in offices or in the field. Monetary bonuses and foreign exchange assignments can be the result of exceptional performance, and training can be provided in the Department of Defense's language school. Employment of military personnel is not expected to see growth over the 2018-2028 decade.

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