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EL ESP: The martial art of English

Josh Devlin surveys military English teaching in Britain and Ireland, where there are a number of schools which are leading the way in this field

Communication stands as one of the most significant components of a strong military presence. Forces that are well versed in various languages have a distinct advantage when it comes to international relations. The Spanish Guardia Civil is just one example of the many military forces across the world that focus on the increasing importance of English language proficiency within their ranks. In order for incoming recruits to join the force they must pass a language exam. Nato forces require cadets to complete mandatory language courses as part of their basic training, and English is the most studied among young military trainees.

English language proficiency is crucial to forces engaged in international missions under the European Union, Nato and the United Nations. Many military personnel volunteer to take the standardised test even after they’ve completed their training. They realise that language proficiency is a gateway to a successful national and international career.

The importance of English language for military forces highlights the need for higher education institutions that offer English courses for military personnel. There aren’t many establishments that provide such courses, but there are a few that offer programmes to help meet this demand. The Lewis School of English and CEC Cork English College offer tailored courses for military personnel, typically running for about four weeks. Cork and Exeter Academy focus their courses on the Nato SLP3 and SLP4 certification, while Lewis no longer offers this and instead concentrates on students entering UK forces that require an Ielts level.

Student diversity extends across each of the institutions in the survey. Lewis trains military personnel, with advised English language levels of at least B1 in the CEFR, from countries such as Spain, Oman, France and Turkey. A variety of students, from cadets in the Italian army to the chief of military staff of the Czech armed forces, have trained at Cork. Exeter has experience with contacts in the Spanish military who want to use the exams as a means for particular deployments within Nato operations.

Lewis offers courses with material concentrating on preparing trainees for military college in the UK: language for map reading, instruction and commands, comprehension of spoken and written commands, tasks out on the ground, structure of the army, ranks and mess life. As well as legal English for army lawyers and English for air force supply chain logistics personnel, Cork’s ‘general plus military programme’ is geared towards communication specific to Nato and the UN. Its programmes include excursions to places of professional and cultural interest, with the aim of trainees developing skills, functional language and lexis specific to formality that will prepare them for day-to-day conversations. Exeter provides courses for all levels, from cadets taking general English and military English with a focus on the standardised exams to more intensive officer’s courses.

The intensity and level of demand these courses place on trainees also require a high level of experience and expertise from instructors. At Lewis military English tutors must have either Trinity CerTesol or Celta certification. Cork’s EFL tutors often have military backgrounds themselves, and their guest speakers are often picked from the country’s own army and navy.

According to MLS chair Barry Henwood, MLS International College Bournemouth no longer provides courses aimed at the standardised tests, but instead offers ‘English and English for special purposes of military personnel (army, air force, navy, special forces) to a number of Middle East countries.’