Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT)

Updated: April 6, 2019

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    Defense Language Proficiency Test

    Photo by Patrick Bray

    The Defense Language Proficiency Test is a function of the Defense Language Institute which is responsible for training military linguists in a variety of non-English languages which have in the past included Urdu, Cantonese, Kurdish, and a variety of others.

    According to the Defense Language Institute official site, “Most federal government agencies” use the Defense Language Proficiency Test, or DLPT, and something called the Oral Proficiency Interview. DLI refers to these tests as being, “reliable, scientifically validated tools for testing language ability of DOD personnel worldwide.”


    Who Uses The Defense Language Proficiency Test

    The DLPT is administered on a regular basis to Defense Department linguists including military linguists serving in uniform. The test measures the speaker’s ability to function as a speaker of another language in real-world situations.

    Both reading and listening are tested and for military members one important detail to remember is that the DLPT scoring can affect the amount of language proficiency pay offered to the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine.

    The DLPT For Trainees

    There is another reason the DLPT is important; before you can be qualified to work as a foreign linguist in the military, you must go through intensive language training at the Defense Language Institute and pass the DLPT with a minimum required score.

    These classes run from 36 weeks of in-residence training to 64 week long courses depending on the difficulty of the learning, which may be more challenging for some cases due to non-romanized alphabets or other factors.

    After Graduating From DLI

    Once completing the language training phase of the military linguist’s career, a certain level of language proficiency upkeep is required. In the same way that some careers like education require a certain number of hours of continuing education, the military linguist’s job includes a requirement to take upkeep classes or otherwise maintain fluency/proficiency.

    DLPT tests may be re-administered on a yearly basis for military members following a refresher course, but the tests may be taken once every half-year without a refresher.

    Failing to maintain the required levels of proficiency may result in a reduction of foreign language proficiency pay at best, and failure to qualify for continued work in the linguist career field in a worst-case scenario.


    Preparing For The Defense Language Proficiency Test

    The Defense Language Institute provides test guides in both general test-taking areas and language-specific guides (see the list of testable languages below).

    The guides provide general familiarization with the test interface itself as well as reviewing the contents of a given language test. That portion of the test guides are meant to familiarize test-takers with the structure and expectations of the exam.

    For example, the test guide for Cantonese has a set of sample test questions and answers. But there’s an added dimension to the Cantonese guide; explanations of why the right answer was right and why the wrong answers are wrong. These explanations refer both to understanding the context of a translated passage and not simply comprehension of the words spoken.

    DLPT Test Delivery: Electronic Only

    The DLPT is administered online, and there are no paper versions of the test available. Early editions of the test were administered on paper but that approach is no longer used.

    Testable Languages Are Testable Under the Defense Language Proficiency Test Program

    At the time of this writing, the following languages have test prep guides available (mentioned above) which are accessible via the Defense Language Institute official site:

    • Albanian
    • Arabic (Algerian)
    • Arabic (Msa)
    • Arabic (Saudi)
    • Arabic (Sudanese)
    • Arabic (Yemeni)
    • Azerbaijani
    • Cantonese
    • Buano
    • Chavacano
    • Chinese Mandarin
    • Ari-afghan
    • French
    • German
    • Greek
    • Haitian Creole
    • Hebrew
    • Hindi
    • Indonesian
    • Japanese
    • Korean
    • Kurdish (Sorani)
    • Norwegian
    • Pashto-afghan
    • Persian (Farsi / Urdu)
    • Portuguese
    • Punjabi
    • Russian
    • Serbian/Croatian
    • Somali
    • Spanish
    • Wahili
    • Tagalog
    • Tausug
    • Thai
    • Turkish
    • Urdu
    • Uzbek
    • Vietnamese
    • Yoruba
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