LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY TEST (DLPT)
The Coast Guard provides
testing for personnel interested in becoming certified as an interpreter or
linguist in the following languages:
456/11 created four levels of Interpreter Foreign Language Proficiency
Pay (FLPP) and two levels of Linguist FLPP. Which level you qualify
for depends on your Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) score.
flpp levels & corresponding DLPT scores
Required DLPT Scores (Listening/Reading)
1+/2 or 2/1+
2/2 or 2+/2 or 2/2+
3/2 or 2/3 or 2+/2+
3/2+ or 2+/3
3/3 or higher
You qualify for FLPP if you:
personnel with working level language proficiency, validated by testing.
The Coast Guard has no specific interpreters billets. Rather,
those who perform interpreter duties are Coast Guard personnel who are
designated by their units to do so as a collateral duty
assignments where an operational requirement exists. Units with
interpreter requirements will be allocated a maximum number of
interpreter billets, as specified in
specific billets associated primarily with intelligence and attaché
duties and require a higher level of language proficiency. Current
linguist billets are listed In
and more may be identified in the future.
NOTE: If you're interested in becoming a
be aware that the Coast Guard has no specific translator positions.
Translators convert written text from one language to another;
interpreters convert spoken language from one to another.
You can find more information about the
program on the
Once you are certified,
your certification is good for one year at which time you can let your
qualification lapse or become re-certified by taking the test again.
is used to determine proficiency in a foreign
language according to well-defined linguistic tasks and assessment
criteria. The DLPT5 (a computer-based test) is now the only test in use
for languages of interest to the Coast Guard.
languages, there are two parts: a reading and a listening part. You
are allowed three hours for each part. You may take both parts on the
same day or different days.
In general, those who do best on these
tests have not only spoken the target language in the home, but who used the
target language in school as their primary language.
This is not an easy test.
ratings for the lower-level tests range from 0 to 5, as described below.
No practical ability to read the language. Consistently
misunderstands or cannot comprehend.
Listening: No practical understanding of the spoken language.
Understanding is limited to occasional isolated words with
essentially no ability to comprehend communication.
Can recognize all the letters in the printed version of an
alphabetic system and high-frequency elements of a syllabary or
a character system. Able to read some or all of the following:
numbers, isolated words and phrases, personal and place names,
street signs, office and shop designations. The above often
interpreted inaccurately. Unable to read connected prose.
Listening: Sufficient comprehension to understand a number of
memorized utterances in areas of immediate needs. Slight
increase in utterance length understood but requires frequent
long pauses between understood phrases and repeated requests on
the listener's part for repetition. Understands with reasonable
accuracy only when this involves short memorized utterances or
formulae. Utterances understood are relatively short in length.
Misunderstandings arise due to ignoring or inaccurately hearing
sounds or word endings (both inflectional and non-inflectional),
distorting the original meaning. Can understand only with
difficulty even such people as teachers who are used to speaking
with non-native speakers. Can understand best those statements
where context strongly supports the utterance's meaning. Gets
some main ideas.
Sufficient comprehension to read very simple connected
written material in a form equivalent to usual printing or
typescript. Can read either representations of familiar
formulaic verbal exchanges or simple language containing only
the highest frequency structural patterns and vocabulary,
including shared international vocabulary items and cognates
(when appropriate). Able to read and understand known language
elements that have been recombined in new ways to achieve
different meanings at a similar level of simplicity. Texts may
include descriptions of persons, places or things: and
explanations of geography and government such as those
simplified for tourists. Some misunderstandings possible on
simple texts. Can get some main ideas and locate prominent items
of professional significance in more complex texts. Can identify
general subject matter in some authentic texts.
Sufficient comprehension to understand utterances about
basic survival needs and minimum courtesy and travel
requirements in areas of immediate need or on very familiar
topics, can understand simple questions and answers, simple
statements and very simple face-to-face conversations in a
standard dialect. These must often be delivered more clearly
than normal at a rate slower than normal with frequent
repetitions or paraphrase (that is, by a native used to dealing
with foreigners). Once learned, these sentences can be varied
for similar level vocabulary and grammar and still be
understood. In the majority of utterances, misunderstandings
arise due to overlooked or misunderstood syntax and other
grammatical clues. Comprehension vocabulary inadequate to
understand anything but the most elementary needs. Strong
interference from the candidate's native language occurs. Little
precision in the information understood owing to the tentative
state of passive grammar and lack of vocabulary. Comprehension
areas include basic needs such as: meals, lodging,
transportation, time and simple directions (including both route
instructions and orders from customs officials, policemen,
etc.). Understands main ideas.
Elementary proficiency, plus
Sufficient comprehension to understand simple discourse
in printed form for informative social purposes. Can read
material such as announcements of public events, simple prose
containing biographical information or narration of events, and
straightforward newspaper headlines. Can guess at unfamiliar
vocabulary if highly contextualized, but with difficulty in
unfamiliar contexts. Can get some main ideas and locate routine
information of professional significance in more complex texts.
Can follow essential points of written discussion at an
elementary level on topics in his/her special professional
field. In commonly taught languages, the individual may not
control the structure well. For example, basic grammatical
relations are often misinterpreted, and temporal reference may
rely primarily on lexical items as time indicators. Has some
difficulty with the cohesive factors in discourse, such as
matching pronouns with referents. May have to read materials
several times for understanding.
Sufficient comprehension to understand short
conversations about all survival needs and limited social
demands. Developing flexibility evident in understanding a range
of circumstances beyond immediate survival needs. Shows
spontaneity in understanding by speed, although consistency of
understanding is uneven. Limited vocabulary range necessitates
repetition for understanding. Understands more common time forms
and most question forms, some word order patterns, but
miscommunication still occurs with more complex patterns. Cannot
sustain understanding of coherent structures in longer
utterances or in unfamiliar situations. Understanding of
descriptions and the giving of precise information is limited.
Aware of basic cohesive features (e.g., pronouns, verb
inflections) but many are unreliably understood, especially if
less immediate in reference. Understanding is largely limited to
a series of short, discrete utterances. Still has to ask for
utterances to be repeated. Some ability to understand facts.
Limited working proficiency
Sufficient comprehension to read simple, authentic written
material in a form equivalent to usual printing or typescript on
subjects within a familiar context. Able to read with some
misunderstandings straightforward, familiar, factual material,
but in general insufficiently experienced with the language to
draw inferences directly from the linguistic aspects of the
text. Can locate and understand the main ideas and details in
material written for the general reader. However, persons who
have professional knowledge of a subject may be able to
summarize or perform sorting and locating tasks with written
texts that are well beyond their general proficiency level. The
individual can read uncomplicated, but authentic prose on
familiar subjects that are normally presented in a predictable
sequence which aids the reader in understanding. Texts may
include descriptions and narrations in contexts such as news
items describing frequently occurring events, simple
biographical information, social notices, formulaic business
letters, and simple technical material written for the general
reader. Generally the prose that can be read by the individual
is predominantly in straightforward/high-frequency sentence
patterns. The individual does not have a broad active vocabulary
(that is, which he/she recognizes immediately on sight), but is
able to use contextual and real-world cues to understand the
text. Characteristically, however, the individual is quite slow
in performing such a process. Is typically able to answer
factual questions about authentic texts of the types described
Sufficient comprehension to understand conversations on
routine social demands and limited job requirements. Able to
understand face-to-face speech in a standard dialect, delivered
at a normal rate with some repetition and rewording, by a native
speaker not used to dealing with foreigners, about everyday
topics, common personal and family news, well-known current
events and routine office matters through descriptions and
narration about current, past and future events; can follow
essential points of discussion or speech at an elementary level
on topics in his/her special professional field. Only
understands occasional words and phrases of statements made in
unfavorable conditions, for example through loudspeakers
outdoors. Understands factual content. Native language causes
less interference in listening comprehension. Able to understand
facts; i.e., the lines but not between or beyond the lines.
Limited working proficiency, plus
Sufficient comprehension to understand most factual material in
non-technical prose as well as some discussions on concrete
topics related to special professional interests. Is markedly
more proficient at reading materials on a familiar topic. Is
able to separate the main ideas and details from lesser ones and
uses that distinction to advance understanding. The individual
is able to use linguistic context and real-world knowledge to
make sensible guesses about unfamiliar material. Has a broad
active reading vocabulary. The individual is able to get the
gist of main and subsidiary ideas in texts which could only be
read thoroughly by persons with much higher proficiencies.
Weaknesses include slowness, uncertainty, inability to discern
nuance and/or intentionally disguised meaning.
Sufficient comprehension to understand most routine
social demands and most conversations on work requirements as
well as some discussions on concrete topics related to
particular interests and special fields of competence. Often
shows remarkable ability and ease of understanding, but under
tension or pressure may break down. Candidate may display
weakness or deficiency due to inadequate vocabulary base or less
than secure knowledge of grammar and syntax. Normally
understands general vocabulary with some hesitant understanding
of everyday vocabulary still evident. Can sometimes detect
emotional overtones. Some ability to understand implications.
Able to read within a normal range of speed and with almost
complete comprehension a variety of authentic prose material on
unfamiliar subjects. Reading ability is not dependent on subject
matter knowledge, although it is not expected that the
individual can comprehend thoroughly subject matter which is
highly dependent on cultural knowledge or which is outside
his/her general experience and not accompanied by explanation.
Text-types include news stories similar to wire service reports
or international news items in major periodicals, routine
correspondence, general reports, and technical material in
his/her professional field; all of these may include hypothesis,
argumentation and supported opinions. Misreading rare. Almost
always able to interpret material correctly, relate ideas and
"read between the lines," (that is, understand the writers'
implicit intents in text of the above types). Can get the gist
of more sophisticated texts, but may be unable to detect or
understand subtlety and nuance. Rarely has to pause over or
reread general vocabulary. However, may experience some
difficulty with unusually complex structure and low frequency
Able to understand the essentials of all speech in a standard
dialect including technical discussions within a special field.
Has effective understanding of face-to-face speech, delivered
with normal clarity and speed in a standard dialect on general
topics and areas of special interest; understands hypothesizing
and supported opinions. Has broad enough vocabulary that rarely
has to ask for paraphrasing or explanation. Can follow
accurately the essentials of conversations between educated
native speakers, reasonably clear telephone calls, radio
broadcasts, news stories similar to wire service reports, oral
reports, some oral technical reports and public addresses on
non-technical subjects; can understand without difficulty all
forms of standard speech concerning a special professional
field. Does not understand native speakers it they speak very
quickly or use some slang or dialect. Can often detect emotional
overtones. Can understand implications.
professional proficiency, plus
Can comprehend a variety of styles and forms pertinent to
professional needs. Rarely misinterprets such texts or rarely
experiences difficulty relating ideas or making inferences. Able
to comprehend many sociolinguistic and cultural references.
However, may miss some nuances and subtleties. Able to
comprehend a considerable range of intentionally complex
structures, low frequency idioms, and uncommon connotative
intentions, however, accuracy is not complete. The individual is
typically able to read with facility, understand, and appreciate
contemporary expository, technical or literary texts which do
not rely heavily on slang and unusual items.
Comprehends most of the content and intent of a variety
of forms and styles of speech pertinent to professional needs,
as well as general topics and social conversation. Ability to
comprehend many sociolinguistic and cultural references.
However, may miss some subtleties and nuances. Increased ability
to comprehend unusually complex structures in lengthy utterances
and to comprehend many distinctions in language tailored for
different audiences. Increased ability to understand native
speakers talking quickly, using nonstandard dialect or slang;
however, comprehension is not complete. Can discern some
relationships among sophisticated listening materials in the
context of broad experience. Can follow some unpredictable turns
of thought readily, for example, in informal and formal speeches
covering editorial, conjectural and literary material in subject
matter areas directed to the general listener.
Advanced professional proficiency
Able to read fluently and accurately all styles and forms of the
language pertinent to professional needs. The individual's
experience with the written language is extensive enough that
he/she is able to relate inferences in the text to real-world
knowledge and understand almost all sociolinguistic and cultural
references. Able to "read beyond the lines" (that is, to
understand the full ramifications of texts as they are situated
in the wider cultural, political, or social environment). Able
to read and understand the intent of writers' use of nuance and
subtlety. The individual can discern relationships among
sophisticated written materials in the context of broad
experience. Can follow unpredictable turns of thought readily
in, for example, editorial, conjectural, and literary texts in
any subject matter area directed to the general reader. Can read
essentially all materials in his/her special field, including
official and professional documents and correspondence.
Recognizes all professionally relevant vocabulary known to the
educated non-professional native, although may have some
difficulty with slang. Can read reasonably legible handwriting
without difficulty. Accuracy is often nearly that of a
well-educated native reader.
Able to understand all forms and styles of speech
pertinent to professional needs. Able to understand fully all
speech with extensive and precise vocabulary, subtleties and
nuances in all standard dialects on any subject relevant to
professional needs within the range of his/her experience,
including social conversations; all intelligible broadcasts and
telephone calls; and many kinds of technical discussions and
discourse. Understands language specifically tailored (including
persuasion, representation, counseling and negotiating) to
different audiences. Able to understand the essentials of speech
in some non-standard dialects. Has difficulty in understanding
extreme dialect and slang, also in understanding speech in
unfavorable conditions, for example through bad loudspeakers
outdoors. Can discern relationships among sophisticated
listening materials in the context of broad experience. Can
follow unpredictable turns of thought readily, for example, in
informal and formal speeches covering editorial, conjectural and
literary material in any subject matter directed to the general
Advanced professional proficiency,
Nearly native ability to read and understand extremely difficult
or abstract prose, a very wide variety of vocabulary, idioms,
colloquialisms and slang. Strong sensitivity to and
understanding of sociolinguistic and cultural references. Little
difficulty in reading less than fully legible handwriting. Broad
ability to "read beyond the lines" (that is, to understand the
full ramifications of texts as they are situated in the wider
cultural, political, or social environment) is nearly that of a
well-read or well-educated native reader. Accuracy is close to
that of the well-educated native reader, but not equivalent.
Increased ability to understand extremely difficult and
abstract speech as well as ability to understand all forms and
styles of speech pertinent to professional needs, including
social conversations. Increased ability to comprehend native
speakers using extreme nonstandard dialects and slang, as well
as to understand speech in unfavorable conditions. Strong
sensitivity to sociolinguistic and cultural references. Accuracy
is close to that of the well-educated native listener but still
Functionally native proficiency
Reading proficiency is functionally equivalent to that of the
well-educated native reader. Can read extremely difficult and
abstract prose; for example, general legal and technical as well
as highly colloquial writings. Able to read literary texts,
typically including contemporary avant-garde prose, poetry and
theatrical writing. Can read classical/archaic forms of
literature with the same degree of facility as the
well-educated, but non-specialist native. Reads and understands
a wide variety of vocabulary and idioms, colloquialisms, slang,
and pertinent cultural references. With varying degrees of
difficulty, can read all kinds of handwritten documents.
Accuracy of comprehension is equivalent to that of a
well-educated native reader.
Comprehension equivalent to that of the well-educated
native listener. Able to understand fully all forms and styles
of speech intelligible to the well-educated native listener,
including a number of regional and illiterate dialects, highly
colloquial speech and conversations and discourse distorted by
marked interference from other noise. Able to understand how
natives think as they create discourse. Able to understand
extremely difficult and abstract speech.
Who can take the test?
Anyone can take a DLPT, as long as the
testing facility can accommodate you. However, those who are in or
being assigned to an Interpreter or Linguist billet have precedence over all
others, for scheduling purposes.
Where can I take the test?
There are over 600
DLPT5 test sites but
only 38 at Coast Guard facilities. Coast Guard personnel may take the
DLPT5 only at Coast Guard sites, unless it's unreasonable to require them to
travel to a Coast Guard site. Only then can they take the DLPT5 at a
To arrange to take the DLPT
in one of the languages listed above, contact the Coast Guard test site nearest you.
Preparing for the Spanish DLPT5
A professor at the University of Texas, Austin has
created a series of "brief video clips in which native speakers of Spanish
from various locations throughout Latin America and Spain demonstrate
various language tasks". These
Exercises are great for getting your ear accustomed to hearing everyday
Spanish spoken in accents you're likely to hear when you take the DLPT5.
Improving Your Foreign Language
The Defense Language Institute (in Monterey, California) has a distance
learning program you can use. The target audience for distance
learning materials is those who are rated at 1 and 1+ in the Interagency
Language Roundtable (ILR) rating system. The materials focus on improving
both listening and reading comprehension up to and beyond ILR level 2. These
courses are designed to function as stand-alone, self-paced programs or as
instructor-mediated programs. All in all, each of the three courses rounds
out approximately 30-40 hours of on-line instruction.
You can find these resources at the Defense Language Institute's
web site. For other
language resources, click here.