Warriors of Tomorrow: Teaching Military Terminology through Film

Agata Jagiello-Tondera
Military University of Technology, Warsaw, Poland


Teaching foreign languages, and military vernacular in particular, to officer cadets may pose a challenging task. Facilitating the process of military language acquisition and arousing intellectual and cognitive curiosity through film play an essential role in the cadets’ language learning process.

Communication skills are of the utmost importance in the military milieu. Nonetheless, successful communication is not only about mastering foreign languages; it is the ability to understand the cultural background of the local population and indigenous peoples. Language skills are vital for communicative interoperability, they become an important tool for strategic, operational, tactical and every day deliverables in the military environment (Cf. Crossey M., 2005) The role of languages in war, as language is perceived as integral to the constitution and development of military conflicts, has been contextualised by researchers (Cf. Footitt and Kelly, 2012). Nevertheless, language is an integral part of peacekeeping and peace maintaining process as well, and since English has become the lingua franca of the contemporary world, its command is essential for the military environment.

Key words: military English, cultural awareness, film, lingua franca

Military English

Limitations to a specialist language omitting aspects of culture may give vague impression of successful communication. A language used for military purposes has incredible potency and versatility. Also, the language differences between British and American military register make the language acquisition quite a challenge. In Forbidden Words (2006) Allan and Burridge use the term Militarese to describe the language used by and about the military. By attaching the suffix -ese they implied that it is just as distinct a language as any other ‘-ese’. Military English differs from GE in several ways, as it uses imperatives instead of polite forms for military commands. Military English avoids the passive as it means avoiding responsibility, with the exception of written military reports, especially incident or assessment reports. The style of military documents inclines towards simplicity and straightforwardness. Other distinguishing features of military vernacular are heavy use of military jargon (cf. Chambers 1999), (over)use of abbreviations and acronyms, which for Crystal (1995) is motivated by the desire for “linguistic economy” and plethora of euphemisms.

Chambers (1999) divides military language into two major groups: official military language and informal military speech. The basic function of official military terminology is to narrow the meaning of words used in military discourse to evade misinterpretation and misunderstandings while using military vernacular. Thus, three main features of official military discourse can be distinguished: it is a sanitized form of the language, emphasises the expertise of its users and contains a specific notion of hierarchy. Operational Military English, a term coined by Dobbs (2016), encompasses three components:

  • “Hard” / “technical” Military English
  • English for the Military
  • English in Military Contexts.

With regard to language challenges of military operations and the role of language policy, Jones and Askew (2014) observe that the social, political and cultural circumstances outside of an organization must be taken into consideration. Effective communication in military context requires both hard skills in a particular job in military environment and soft skills, covering a whole spectrum from time management to communicative matters to conquering the mind and hearts of the local population. Thus, an excellent opportunity for studies arises not only in the area of teaching methods but also in enhancing intercultural competencies of students.

Absorbing military terminology though film

Facilitating the process of military language acquisition and arousing intellectual and cognitive curiosity through film play an essential role in the cadets’ language learning process. Supporting students’ efforts to memorise the plethora of abbreviations used in military English with films and short films, real-life language input, brings about much better results. And officer cadets are expected to acquire various types of abbreviations: from initialisms GI, SAM, to acronyms AWOL, HAHO, to clippings COSCOM, DISCOM, to blends HUMINT, EUCOM. (cf. Crystal 1995). Nevertheless, the very title of a movie, for instance GI Jane, can augment this process. First year students of MUT commencing their military training at the shooting range find it quite a challenge to remember names of all parts of a rifle. Having watched a short and gripping video about a corner shot gun from the Future Weapons television series hosted by a former Navy SEAL, the cadets feel inclined to learn more. Encouraging students to prepare their own vidcasts with new military terminology is a great way of engaging them into activities incorporating both professional knowledge and language acquisition itself. And as in the words of J.Bottomely, “film has the potential to lift language off the page and bring it to (technicolour!) life in the classroom”.

Furthermore, being exposed to real-life film input and trying to (P)polish their Militarese, students also experience the difference in expressing their ideas and solving moral dilemmas in another language. A study regarding moral choices in relation to foreign and native languages found that our decisions may vary according to the language we use. Foreign language can lead to a more rational choice in a crisis situation, when a decision should be made to guarantee the safety of the group, but which threatens the safety of the individual. (Costa, 2014)

The overall objective of the military language courses is to focus on desirable professional English skills reached throughout the fiction films and documentaries that engage intercultural communication competencies. A competent peacekeeper of the future needs to understand the cultural context of a language, be it English or a niche language, and to enhance intercultural competencies. And film as a global medium arouses their intellectual and cognitive curiosity of the contemporary world.


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Footitt H., Kelly M., Tobia S., Baker C., Askew L., Languages at war: policies and practices of language contacts in conflict, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire 2012.

Jones I.P., Askew L., Meeting the Language Challenges of NATO Operations. Policy, Practice and Professionalization, Palgrave Macmillan 2014.

URN: http://urn.fi/urn:nbn:fi:jamk-issn-2343-0281-49