International peace talks

9th March 2001 at 00:00
Carolyn O'Grady looks at the career of military interpreter.

When you think of the Army what do you see? Guns, tanks and assault courses? Few language teachers would think that the Army has anything to do with them. But linguists are increasingly sought after in the British Army, and this month it is launching a recruitment drive for military linguists.

Military linguists can be employed in a variety of roles. They can aid communication and monitor international agreements on British, NATO and United Nations peace-keeping missions; they can be soldiers on the ground, interpreting between allied forces or warring factions. They can work at very high levels, producing reports on which the development of strategy and policy are based, or as part of an intelligence unit collecting, analysing and disseminating information.

These jobs do not necessarily require a university degree or even A-levels, as the Army will teach young people the language skills and also train them in analytical and data-handling skills, as well as providing the basic soldiering and intelligence training required.

Staff Sergeant Alistair Roy is a military linguist and now a language instructor. As an Arabic speaker he has worked as an interpreter in Egypt, provided training support to the Saudi Arabian National Guard and worked as an interpreter with them. His basic training, he says, "was physically and psychologically demanding, and the interpreters' course was very involved and at times very difficult".

"The transition from civilian life can be quite difficult," he points out. "Military linguists are soldiers first and language specialists second," and do not escape the rigours of a soldier's life. "The strict discipline and the rigorous fitness regime can be a shock, " he says. "But the scial and sporting aspects of Army life are second to none." He has also enjoyed the opportunities to do adventurous activities and see places that he might never have visited in civilian life. And as a military linguist promotion was rapid and "the pay good".

Sergeant Kim McCafferty has been in the army 10 years, and she also now is an instructor. Among many jobs, she has acted as an interpreter in Cairo on a multinational exercise and in Jordan on an adventure training exercise. She was also based in Cyprus for a time.

She too has found promotion rapid, but has been disappointed not to have found more long-term overseas postings. She found training alongside the men physically exhausting and studying languages was hard work (she also speaks Arabic), but "army life", she says, "is ideal for young, single people".

It became more difficult, however, with family commitments: a husband and wife could expect to be separated a lot, and a soldier mother might be separated from her children for periods of time. However, she loves "the great sporting facilities, opportunities for adventure training and making friends for life".

A career as a military linguist is open to anyone aged over 17-and-a-half who has five GCSEs at grade C and above. A qualified linguist will start on pound;17,300, at the bottom of a steeply rising pay scale.

Some Army career facts: the British Army is the United Kingdom's biggest employer of young people and the largest training organisation in Europe; there are more than 1,400 career paths; and each year 16,000 people choose and are selected for a career in it. The Army is made up of 110,000 men and women and is expanding.

For more information phone the Army Careers Office, tel: 0345 300 111 or your local number. Web:

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