Erik Slavin for Stars and Stripes, July 2, 2011:
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Proficient speakers of Japanese, Korean and four other languages will be receiving hundreds of dollars less in their Navy paychecks, beginning this month.
Sailors will also no longer receive Foreign Language Proficiency Pay for knowing Haitian Creole, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Amoy Chinese as of Friday, according to Navy documents.
The languages are now considered “enduring” and “prevalent in the force,” meaning they are still strategically important, but that the numbers of speakers in the Navy exceeds mission needs.
Several European languages, Thai and a few others fall under the same classifications.
Only career linguists, sailors assigned to a job coded for the language and expeditionary forces, will still receive extra pay for prevalent languages, according to a May 13 instruction signed by Vice Adm. Mark Ferguson, chief of Navy personnel.
Navy Personnel Command officials were not available this week for further comment.
Proficiency pay is awarded based on reading, listening and speaking scores, and varies between $100 and $500 per month. Expert speakers in two critical languages can earn a sailor up to $1,000 per month in extra pay.
Despite the removal of the six languages from the special-pay category, education officials say sailors should continue taking the annual proficiency tests.
“We never know when another contingency issue or another conflict will result in the need for their language skills,” said Dean Moore, Navy College director at Yokosuka Naval Base.
Although figures weren’t immediately available on the number of Japanese test takers at Yokosuka, college officials said that more sailors have already taken language tests in 2011 than they did during 2009 or 2010.
Languages on the proficiency pay list can change at any time, but they are based largely on the service’s strategic language list, which identifies languages the Defense Department considers important to national security through 2020. In May, the Navy’s list reclassified several languages under three categories: immediate, emerging and enduring.
Nearly all of the immediate and emerging languages are African, Middle Eastern or Asian, though none are from East Asia.
The Air Force, Army and Marine Corps also maintain language bonus pay systems, which vary according to their particular needs.