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Why you should focus on language learning at West Point

All cadets at West Point must study a foreign language for at least two semesters. This is mandated, no matter if you are already fluent in multiple languages. You are not permitted to “validate” or seek recognition of prior learning in this regard. Cadets are given the choice of the following languages: German, Chinese, Arabic, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and Persian.

During your first week at West Point, all cadets in your intake will be surveyed to determine their previous experience with languages other than English. If you have studied languages during high school or elsewhere, your level of proficiency will be determined during this week. If the language which you have studied is one of the eight offered at West Point, you have the option of placing it as your preference. Just the same, if you would like to study a new language, that is also acceptable.

As part of the foreign language learning curriculum, cadets will study abroad for a summer or an entire semester. Language majors will spend several weeks immersed in the language and culture of their choice. International military orientation or training may be possible during this time.



How week one at West Point can shape your whole career


West Point’s aim in mandating language education for all cadets is to foster intellectual development, not necessarily filling Army’s immediate need for linguists. However, it should be noted that these two are complimentary and choosing a language at West Point that is also in high demand within Army will likely pay benefits during your career.

All languages offered at West Point, except German, are on the Strategic Languages List. This means that if you are proficient in one of these languages, you may be eligible for a language proficiency bonus. As you can imagine, the more demanding and valued a language is the higher the extra pay. So It might be worth aiming for one of the big three (Russian, Chinese and Arabic). There are multiple more advantages to choosing one of the big three.

Immediately qualifying for and choosing a big three language shows West Point staff that you have above average intellectual aptitude. A stand out score on the language aptitude test can foster your reputation from the first week as one of the higher intellect cadets on the intake. This news can move pretty quickly among staff.

In choosing one of the big three languages you are showing that you are serious about your career in the Army. These are the most valued languages in Army. If you were staff at West Point and had the following two students, which would impress you more?

Student one got an average score on the language aptitude test and chose to study Spanish because that’s what he was familiar with from high school.

Student two scored very high on the language aptitude test and chose to study Chinese. Student two had surveyed which languages to learn and, based on his knowledge of international relations and foreign affairs, chose Chinese so he could better serve his country. This is all despite not having any background in Chinese.  

Which of these two stand out to you?

Although you do get a choice of which language you study at West Point, you are not necessarily guaranteed to get that language. Given Army’s demand for the big three languages, if these are not filled by cadets volunteering, others will be refused their first choice and put into one of the big three to make up the numbers. In 2008, 86 cadets, or 6.7% of the class were moved from their first choices into these three critical languages. This happens with nearly every intake. This is another reason why choosing one of the big three from the outset set you apart from the crowd.

How to score high on and ‘game’ the Language Aptitude Test

On arrival at West Point, all cadets are made to sit the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT). The MLAT tests your ability to learn languages and is one of the first tests you will complete. Thus, it can establish or degrade your reputation with staff from the outset.

Only those cadets who score high enough on the MLAT are allowed to study one of the big three. Scores on the MLAT from the class of 2012 ranged from 14 through to 163. As such, this is a test you can either fail miserably or do quite well on. But don’t worry, there is hope…


The great majority of people you ask about the MLAT say that it’s a test you can’t study for. Unfortunately, this is a wide-spread misconception. is one of the very few places that you can study for the MLAT. Also, it is certainly the cheapest. The site also has various articles such as the 10 best ways to study for the MLAT.    




Why you might not get your first choice of language

We’ve already explained that cadets will be moved into the big three languages if there are shortages in course numbers. However, the primary reason that people don’t get their language of choice is their poor performance on the MLAT. Even if you have prior experience in one of the big three, say by studying it at high school, this does not guarantee entry into that language. If, say, you’ve taken Russian in high school for the last 5 years and want to continue that study at West Point, you will not be permitted to do so if you have under performed on the MLAT.


If you’d like to know more on this topic, you can email us.

MLAT study has no affiliation with USMA and the information above is general advice only. 

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