What are DLPT and DLAB, and what’s the difference between them both?
Today I’ll break it down for you in simple terms.
When it comes to assessing language skills, the military has it down to a science.
Two tools used to measure language skills are the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) and the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB). I’ll explain what these tests are (the difference between the two) and the pay benefits they bring.
Table Of Contents:
- DLPT vs. DLAB (in a nutshell)
- Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT)
- How the DLPT works
- Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB)
- How the DLAB works
- Where to take the DLPT/DLAB
- Benefits of taking the DLPT and DLAB
- Qualifying for specific roles
- Salary (US Military)
- Australian Defence Force language allowances
DLPT vs. DLAB
The DLPT and DLAB serve entirely different purposes. Developed by the Defense Language Institute (DLI), the tests differ as follows:
- The DLPT measures one’s proficiency in a specific foreign language
- The DLAB measures one’s ability to learn foreign languages
Think of DLPT as a military equivalent of CEFR (European languages), JLPT (Japanese), HSK (Chinese) and so on.
The defense language tests are generally used by the US Department of Defense and administered to native English-speaking military personnel. However, because of their unique attributes, other agencies and countries occasionally use the tests as well, for various purposes.
Australia is one country that uses DLAB, and I’ve shared my personal experience taking the test in a previous post.
Defense Language Proficiency Test
The military uses the DLPT for two main reasons.
The first is to ensure that personnel working within linguistics career fields are qualified and current on their skills.
In the US Army, this enlisted career field is called Cryptologic Linguist. The Air Force calls them Cryptologic Language Analysts, while the Navy uses the term Cryptologic Technician Interpretive.
The second use of the DLPT is to test speakers of other languages who aren’t working in a linguistics career field.
Such persons can serve in an auxiliary capacity to fill gaps when needed. In other words, they hold a primary job but may occasionally get tapped to perform linguistics work, too.
Members who obtain a satisfactory DLPT score are eligible to receive incentive Foreign Language Proficiency Pay (FLPP).
How the DLPT works
Per DLI’s Foreign Language Center, the DLPT’s most current version is the DLPT5.
This web-based test is 3 hours long and utilizes audio and written components to test one’s listening and reading abilities.
Test takers wear headphones for the audio portions, listen to snippets of audio recordings such as news or conversations, and answer questions based on their comprehension of what they heard.
The written part requires reading long passages of various content types, then answering questions related to the text.
Some questions are multiple-choice while others require constructed-response test responses (meaning the answer must be written out).
Certain languages are rated as more difficult than others.
For scoring, the DoD defers to Interagency Language Roundtable guidelines. Proficiency scores are assigned to both the listening and reading portions. Scores can range from 0+ to 3 for lower-range (i.e., “easier”) languages or up to 4 on upper-range (more difficult) languages.
To ensure currency, linguists take the DLPT every year.
Defense Language Aptitude Battery
The DLAB tests how well a person could theoretically learn foreign languages.
It actually has nothing to do with any specific language.
Instead, the DLAB uses various constructed languages to see if the test taker can determine functional grammar and usage rules. In short, it tests what’s called your “metalinguistic awareness”.
This test is based on the idea that some people have more latent ability in this area than others or that their life experiences predisposed them to be good with languages. That said, with exposure to foreign language-learning concepts, most people can increase their score on the DLAB.
The military administers the DLAB when a person desires to qualify for training in a linguist career field.
This applies to new military entrants as well as those already in the service who are looking to retrain.
Generally, unless one is already fluent in a language that the military needs linguists for, they may not always get to choose which language they’ll be asked to learn.
The DLAB helps the military determine the level of language difficulty one could expect to excel in, based on their scores.
How the DLAB works
The DLAB is a web-based exam featuring 126 multiple-choice questions spread across six sections. The first five are audio, and the test taker wears headphones to listen to prompts and mark their answers. The sixth section is visual only, with some questions featuring scenarios that the test taker must complete.
As mentioned, the test doesn’t use real languages; it uses bits of fake languages, which the test taker has to decipher in some manner (depending on the type of question).
For example, a question might start by saying that, in the target language, the word “dheb” means “book.”
It then notes that to make a word feminine, the suffix “-a” must be added. Meanwhile, to form a possessed noun, one must add the suffix “-la.”
After this information is presented, the test offers multiple choice answers to a question such as: “Which word refers to ‘her book?’”
(The answer: “dhebala.”)
Languages fall under four different categories of difficulty.
Each has a minimum passing DLAB score associated with it. Thus, in order to train into a specific language, the test taker must achieve a specific DLAB result to qualify. For instance, a score of 85 is needed for Category I languages like French or Italian.
A score of 100 is needed for Category IV languages such as Arabic or Chinese.
Where to take the DLPT/DLAB
For those seeking entry into a military branch, a recruiter can guide you on taking applicable tests to qualify for a linguist job.
To be eligible for a guaranteed job, tests must be taken and scores received before a candidate leaves for their entrance physical exam at a Military Entrance Processing Station.
For those in the service who wish to retrain as a linguist or qualify for Foreign Language Proficiency Pay, the military personnel section can schedule these exams locally.
They are typically done at a proctored testing facility on-base, where test takers can access the necessary materials and be monitored.
💵 Benefits of taking the DLPT and DLAB
Qualifying for specific roles
The main benefit of taking either test is, of course, to qualify for a particular job.
Depending on the position desired, one must either prove they are proficient in a specific language or are capable of learning a foreign language. Military linguist training schools are notoriously difficult and have high washout rates.
That is why candidates are required to demonstrate their abilities before attendance.
Those with sufficiently high scores in a foreign language may not be required to attend Defense Language Institute courses.
Instead, they may proceed directly to the technical training portion where they’ll learn specific duties such as how to operate applicable equipment.
However, many accepted students are required to take at least several weeks, if not months, of immersive language training at a DLI center to ensure 100% preparedness for their pending jobs.
It should go without saying that the other nice benefit of scoring well on the DLPT is the extra pay.
FLPP rates vary depending on your score and on the language itself (languages on the Strategic Language List are considered more critical; thus it pays extra to know them).
Generally, FLPP ranges from $100 up to $500 a month, per language.
This means that people who are proficient in multiple foreign languages may qualify for multiple FLPP payments (up to $1,000 per month).
Here are the current languages on the DoD SLL (subject to change obviously):
|IMMEDIATE INVESTMENT (highest demand & highest paid)||EMERGING LANGUAGES (rising demand)||ENDURING LANGUAGES (important)|
|Levantine Arabic||Acholi (spoken in parts of Sudan and Uganda)||Moroccan Arabic|
|Yemeni Arabic||Amharic||Algerian Arabic|
|Balochi (Iranian language)||Azerbaijani||Tunisian Arabic|
|Urdu||Punjabi (Western)||Lebanese Arabic|
The Defense Finance and Accounting website lists current payment rates, as outlined in DoD FMR Vol. 7A, Chapter 19.
I’ve made a simplified table that explains monthly salary bonuses a little clearer:
|Reading, Listening and Speaking proficiency level combinations*||Immediate / Emerging languages and dialects salary||Enduring languages and dialects salary||All other languages (not on DoD SLL) salary|
|1 / 1||$100||$0-100||$0-100|
|1+ / 1+||$150||$0-150||$0-150|
|2 / 2||$200||$0-200||$0-200|
|2 / 2+||$250||$0-250||$0-250|
|2+ / 2+ or 2 / 3||$300||$0-300||$0-300|
|2+ / 3||$350||$0-350||$0-350|
|3 / 3||$400||$0-400||$0-400|
|3 / 3 / 3 or 4 / 4||$500||$0-500||$0-500|
*The numbers here represent levels, with 1 being the lowest. So “1/1” could be, for example, Speaking Level 1/Reading Level 1, whereas 3/3/3 would be Speaking Level 3, Reading Level 3, Listening Level 3.
DFAS offers a few provisos that are really important.
They’re not easy to understand so I’ll simplify some of the important ones for you:
1. The table doesn’t show all possible proficiency combinations.
In some cases, you might have a proficiency level that “falls between” two levels. In this case, you’re paid at the lower rate.
2. Some languages don’t have all modalities/skills.
What this means is that some languages may not have an official writing system (e.g. Arabic dialects), so “Reading” isn’t an option. In this case, they’ll test your Modern Standard Arabic reading level instead and count that.
However, they still may only pay you for one level (they’ll make that determination).
3. If you’re getting Cat A pay for one language, they may only pay you Cat B pay for additional languages.
It’s entirely at their discretion.
Australian Defence Force language allowances
I thought it’d be good to briefly include language pay allowances for Australian defence force personnel as well (for reference or comparison).
The ADF places a higher value on South-East Asian languages (for obvious reasons). It also places desired languages in 3 distinct categories of “difficulty” (3 being supposedly the most challenging).
|Group 1||Group 2||Group 3|
The annual pay allowances in AUD are as follows:
|Low Proficiency||Intermediate Proficiency||Advanced Proficiency||Interpreter Proficiency|
I hope that clears up the difference between DLPT and DLAB, and the benefits these tests can bring to your US defense career.
I’ve included the ADF data as a point of comparison (and also because it’s the one I have personal experience applying for). I’ve sat for and passed DLAB when applying for an Air Force role as an Arabic translator.
In my case, a very small handful of a large group of people were successful.
DLAB isn’t exactly something you can study for (it’s an aptitude test after all), but there is a popular guide by Robert Cunnings that may help you prepare.
Do you have personal experience taking DLPT or DLAB?
Share it in the comment section below.
What is the difference between DLAB and DLPT? ›
Developed by the Defense Language Institute (DLI), the tests differ as follows: The DLPT measures one's proficiency in a specific foreign language. The DLAB measures one's ability to learn foreign languages.How much does the Army pay for languages? ›
Language testing can be conducted at ANY "military service testing facility" worldwide. The monthly FLPB rate is based on proficiency and the language payment list (Army Soldiers can receive from $100 and up to $500 maximum for one language depending on which language and score).What is a good score on the DLAB test? ›
What is considered a good score on the DLAB? A 95 is considered a passing score on DLAB. A score of 95 is considered passing because it is the minimum requirement for some basic languages as well as getting into the Defense Language Institute.What is a good score on the DLPT? ›
To take an upper-range DLPT5, you must have a score of level 3 on the lower-range DLPT5. (Exception: if there is no lower-range DLPT5, a score of level 3 on a lower-range DLPT IV is used.) You do not need to have a score of level 3 on both skills.What DLAB score do you need for Russian? ›
95 for a Category III language (Belorussian, Czech, Greek, Hebrew, Persian, Polish, Russian, Serbian/Croatian, Slovak, Tagalog [Filipino], Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese) 100 for a Category IV language (Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean)How long is DLAB good for? ›
DLAB scores do not expire. Personnel who fail to qualify for language training with a score of 95 or higher on the initial test may retest after a 6 month waiting period.What is DLPT salary? ›
Provided a soldier tests well enough, pay rates range from a minimum of $100 to a maximum of $500 per month, depending on the language or dialect and documented proficiency level.Which foreign language pays the most? ›
- Spanish. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world with over 430 million native speakers. ...
- French. ...
- Mandarin Chinese. ...
- German. ...
The languages most in-demand are exactly what you would expect: Arabic, Chinese, Pashto, Farsi, Russian, and Korean. Each intelligence agency and branch of the armed services has its own job and language requirements, but one thing unites them: the security screening process.Is 130 on the DLAB good? ›
Furthermore, the DLAB is a required test for officers looking to either join the Foreign Area Officer program or the Olmsted Scholar Program. The required grade for these programs is a 105, but the recommended grade is at least a 130 or above.
Is 70 a good ASVAB score? ›
With ASVAB Standard scores, the majority of students score between 30 and 70. This means that a standard score of 50 is an average score, and a score of 60 would be an above-average score.How difficult is the DLPT? ›
I have to say, this is one difficult test. Even the native speakers of Spanish, Russian, and German were struggling, but mind you that hey still achieved stellar scores. The test is comprised of reading and listening, so to the people that are hardcore LingQ users, this would be right up your alley!How many promotion points is DLPT? ›
The Army is also awarding 10 promotion points to Soldiers who achieve an elementary proficiency rating on the Defense Language Proficiency Test.What do DLAB scores mean? ›
The DLAB test scores are ultimately used to determine the service member's eligibility for. language training in accordance with (IAW) AR 611-6 and for reclassification into Military. Occupational Specialty (MOS) 37F, 97E, or 98G IAW DA PAM 611-21.Can you fail a DLAB? ›
Someone failing the test or getting a low score can always retake the DLAB but only after a wait of 6 months. To qualify to pursue training in a language, one needs a minimum score of 95.What army jobs require DLAB? ›
Prospective Cryptologic Linguists (MOS 35P) must complete a score of Skilled Technical (ST): 91. Additionally, Army Cryptologic Linguists must complete the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB). The DLAB evaluates how well a native English speaker can learn a new language.Do you get promotion points for DLPT? ›
Answer: No, Soldiers will not receive additional promotion points for multiple DLPT's.Can civilians take the DLAB? ›
Both are acceptable. DoD civilians and contractors are authorized to take the DLAB and DLPT. The DLAB is required for language training and the DLPT is the measure of language proficiency and is authorized when proficiency is job required.How many times can you take the DLPT? ›
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.Which foreign language is in demand in 2022? ›
The Spanish language has spread widely across Europe and the Americas, making it a number one language to learn in 2022, after Mandarin Chinese. With Spanish-speaking countries being among the leaders in the globalized economy, you should take this opportunity.
Which Interpreter makes most money? ›
Simultaneous Interpreters Earn the Big Money. The highest paying jobs don't belong to translators. Simultaneous interpreters are the best paid in the language service industry. That's because it is the hardest job.Which foreign language is in demand in US? ›
German companies account for 700,000 jobs in the United States and for those aspiring for employment in the United States, learning German can give you great job offers. More than 220 million people speak French in five continents.What language is the FBI looking for? ›
We consider nine languages critical to our investigations—Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese. But FBI linguists may also be called upon to provide foreign language and cultural expertise in many more languages.How much do military interpreters make? ›
Average U.S. Army Translator/Interpreter yearly pay in the United States is approximately $71,554, which is 63% above the national average.Do you get paid more for knowing more languages? ›
For college graduates in the U.S., fluency in a foreign language other than English led to an average salary increase of 2%, according to a 2005 study published in The Review of Economics and Statistics. For comparison, researchers found that an extra year of general education yielded an 8% to 14% increase in earnings.How hard is the DLPT? ›
The DLPT requires a lot of vocab “bottom up” to pass the lower levels; but for the higher levels, it requires “top down” recognition of contexts and “patterns of speech”. Students and linguists who have to translate every word do not do as well on the test as those who understand contextually.What does the DLPT measure? ›
The DLPT is used to determine proficiency in a foreign language according to well- defined linguistic tasks and assessment criteria. The DLPT 5 (a computer-based test) is now the only test in use for languages of interest to the Coast Guard. For most languages, there are two parts: a reading and a listening part.What is the DLPT in the army? ›
The Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) is series of end of course assessments used by the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) as part of the foreign language training for the U.S. military and federal government agencies with personnel requiring foreign language training to perform their ...What is a DLAB test? ›
The Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) is a standardized government test, approximately two hours in length, used to determine the natural ability of armed services members to learn a foreign language.How do you pass a language proficiency test? ›
- Learn about the format of the Language Profiency Examination and how to better prepare for it.
- Discuss study strategies and materials.
- Practice for the reading, listening, and grammar-vocabulary sections with online activities and previous exams.
Do you get promotion points for DLAB? ›
Question: The new policy states that Soldiers get 10 points for 1/1 on DLPT but it's not clear to me if a Soldier has multiple languages, do they get additional points? Answer: No, Soldiers will not receive additional promotion points for multiple DLPT's.Is the DLPT all multiple choice? ›
In the "big" languages (for example, Russian, Chinese and Arabic) the test format will be multiple-choice. The test taker will read or listen to foreign language passages, read questions in English, and provide short answers in English.What is a passing DLAB score? ›
The Army standard for DLAB scores includes a requirement to score 95 or better on the initial test. Those who do not score 95 or better are welcome to retest again following a six-month waiting period.What happens if you fail the DLAB? ›
Someone failing the test or getting a low score can always retake the DLAB but only after a wait of 6 months. For most service members, this is too long and will cause them to miss the deadline for submitting their scores. Adequate preparation is thus a near-necessity.How do you get foreign language proficiency pay? ›
To receive FLPB, service members must be tested annually using the current version of the DLPT or another test designated by the commander of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC).What languages are in demand for the military? ›
The languages most in-demand are exactly what you would expect: Arabic, Chinese, Pashto, Farsi, Russian, and Korean. Each intelligence agency and branch of the armed services has its own job and language requirements, but one thing unites them: the security screening process.How many promotion points is DLPT? ›
The Army is also awarding 10 promotion points to Soldiers who achieve an elementary proficiency rating on the Defense Language Proficiency Test.What is military proficiency pay? ›
Section 316 Foreign Language Proficiency Bonus (FLPB)
Financial incentive for members to become proficient, or to increase their proficiency, in foreign languages to enhance the foreign language capabilities of the armed forces. The law authorizes payment of a bonus of up to $12,000 for a 12-month certification period.
Someone failing the test or getting a low score can always retake the DLAB but only after a wait of 6 months. To qualify to pursue training in a language, one needs a minimum score of 95.Whats the highest score on DLAB? ›
The highest possible score on the DLAB is 176.