The men of the U.S. Army Special Forces are a unique group of Soldiers. The selection process to gain entry to Special Forces training is difficult. Once accepted into the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) the training is long, complex, and arduous. Special Forces missions are very different from those of the conventional army and require intense training in many areas. One of the training components of the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) is Special Forces language training.
An aspect of Special Forces that sets the organization apart from other military units is its regional orientation. Each of the seven U.S. Army’s Special Forces groups is oriented to a specific region of the world. The 1st Special Forces Group is geared toward the Pacific, 3rd Special Forces Group to Africa, etc. Each of the Special Forces Groups (SFGs) then selects the languages that are the most important in their region. For the 7th SFG (Central and South America) this is relatively easy – Spanish and Portuguese are the major languages. 3rd SFG (Africa) has a multitude of languages found on an extremely large continent with many countries. French is a commonly spoken language in parts of Africa so that language is a priority.
While he is going through the SFQC each Special Forces candidate is tagged to a specific language and probably knows which group he will be assigned to upon graduation. Some language courses, the easier ones like Spanish, Portuguese, and French, will last several months. The harder languages, like Arabic, Russian, and Tagalog, could run for a longer period of time; as long as a year.
The basic Special Forces language training provided at the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJKFSWCS) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina is designed to give the student a basic speaking and listening proficiency on the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI). The training also provides some limited reading skills. Some of the topics covered in the language instruction include culture, politics, security, and social systems. The Special Forces language training is focused on functional application geared toward mission-related tasks, rapport building, and use of interpreters.
Language training does not stop upon graduation from the SFQC. There are advanced language courses that Special Forces Soldiers can attend. Each Special Forces group has a language training facility (commonly called a ‘language lab’). The SF groups will run language refresher training periodically; usually prior to an SF detachment deploying on an overseas mission. In addition to the language labs the SF groups will run overseas immersion training. This is sometimes preceded with some language study at the garrison location before heading overseas to take part in language training in a foreign country. In addition, the individual Soldier can improve his language abilities through college courses, at-home self-study, or with computer-based (or Internet-based) language study aids. One of the Internet-based language applications is the Special Operations Forces Teletraining System (SOFTS).
Each year the Soldiers are required to take a language aptitude test. If a high enough proficiency is attained (demonstrated by the language test score) the Soldier can pick up some extra money in his paycheck. Language proficiency is an important aspect of regional orientation and an extremely beneficial skill to have when conducting the many different types of missions that Special Forces Soldiers perform in foreign countries. That language proficiency starts with the basic Special Forces Language Training during the SF qualification course.
________, Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC), Army National Guard.
Howard, Russell D., Cultural and Linguistic Skills Acquisition for Special Forces: Necessity, Acceleration, and Potential Alternatives, JSOU Report 11-6, Joint Special Operations University, December 2011.
Sunds, Benett P., Selecting Foreign Languages for United States Army Special Operations Forces, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 2006.