I'm often asked about the details of the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB), the test the military services use to measure aptitude to learn a foreign language. My own experience with taking the DLAB was several years ago, but a friend who took the test just recently, was kind enough to share his experience with me.
There are several jobs in the military which require fluency in a foreign language. DOD uses two primary tests to determine whether or not someone can obtain one of these jobs.
The first test is the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT). This test is designed for individuals who are already fluent in a specific foreign language needed by the military. Quite simply, it tests the individual's current knowledge of a specific language. The test results in a language proficiency rating of 0, 0+ 1, 1+, 2, 2+, or 3, with three being the highest. The newest verion of the DLPT (version V) measures language ability on a scale of 0 through 5+, but it will be a few years before this version is available for all tested languages.
The version of the test commonly given at locations other than the Defense Language Institute, measures only reading and listening ability.
However, most people trying to obtain a job which requires foreign language proficiency, are not currently fluent in a needed language. In that case, DOD uses the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (or DLAB) to measure one's aptitude to learn a foreign language.
Studying for the DLAB
Many people ask if one can study for the DLAB, or if there are any study guides available. The answers are "yes" and "no."
There are no commercial study guides available for the DLAB, and one cannot study for the DLAB in the traditional way, as the DLAB is designed to measure language-learning potential, not current knowledge. While one cannot study specific practice questions for the DLAB, one can study grammar and English text books to ensure they have a solid grasp of English grammar before taking the test.
As a current Army Linguist puts it: "...in preparation for the DLAB one can help themselves greatly by ensuring that they have a solid grasp of grammar and syntax in general. One who doesn't know what an adjective is will have serious problems with the DLAB."
According to individuals who have taken (and passed) the DLAB, one can improve their scores by:
- Having a very clear understanding of English grammar. You will need to know all parts of speech and how they work. You may wish to get your hands on a good college level grammar text book and study that for awhile before taking the test. Understand how English sentences are constructed (i.e. Subject-Verb-Object). Fooling around with this construction will help you on the DLAB.
- Be able to recognize accentuation and stress patterns in words. Know where syllable breaks are in words.
- Have some experience with a foreign language. If you want to be a Russian linguist, it is not necessary that you have experience with Russian. However, if you have some experience with a foreign language, it will help you to understand that different languages use sentence structures differently than English.
- Be prepared to interpret instructions based on pictures. For example, a picture of a red car is presented with the word "ZEEZOOM". Next, a picture of a blue car is presented with the word "KEEZOOM". Next, a picture of a red bus is presented with the word "ZEEBOOM". You must be able to give the foreign word for a "blue bus".
- You should also know that on the audio portion of the exam there is no repetition of the questions. Once an item is given there is a brief pause for you to answer and then the next question. Be prepared for this; if you think you can think your way into an answer on any given question you will miss the beginning of the next. This effect can snowball and probably leads to some people with good chances going south due to nerves. Listen carefully and go with your gut. Be ready for the next question.