so what happens if you get conscripted in a country and you don't speak the language

a lot of countries still conscript. due to the increasing global nature of humanity and the legal concept of jus sanguinis (citizenship by blood), you are invariably going to have people born in a country thousands of miles away from their “blood nation” who may face a conscription obligation if they wish to ever return to their ancestral home.

what the hell would said people do if they didn’t speak the language? (let’s assume that there are no “foreign resident” waivers for military service - assume you had to serve)

I mean I can’t imagine the drill sargeant of your Austrian conscript platoon duplicating his orders in English (if he even had the capacity to do so) for the benefit of the American guy who wanted to live in Austria but had to serve out his military obligation.

So recognizing the utter uselessness of a conscript who cannot communicate or be communicated to, what happens? do they beat you and haze you until you quickly glean a rudimentary command of the language?

personal stories/anecdotes always appreciated.

Finland is quite hard in this respect. If you haven’t done your national service and are found out on a visit to the “old” country you are supposedly forced to do it there and then. A friend of mine has told me about his time in the Finnish army. There was one soldier from South Africa and one from somewhere in South America in his platoon who had both travelled around half the World to serve. If I remember correctly none of them could speak a word of neither Finnish nor Swedish but they had to do as good as they could anyway (in a Swedish speaking outfit).

He has also told me that the military authorities once tried to get in touch with him to call him in for a refresher exercise but when his mother explained that he lives in Sweden they dropped interest in him, so I suppose that goes for his two platoon friends as well.

It probably differs quite a bit from nation to nation, but I know Israel offers a language course for foreign recruits if needed.

It would probably depend on the State.

I believe that Israel first teaches you to speak a language that’s spoken in their platoons.
ETA: Damn, beaten.

a follow-up to you and Telperion: is the time spent learning the language incorporated as part of your service obligation, or is it just something extra that you have to do?

i would also suggest that Israel is unique - the country was (re?) formed with the expectation that there would be Jews from all over the world repatriating to the motherland. So I would expect them to do something like this. Finns, as the first poster mentioned, not so much, with the exception of Swedish.

keep the stories coming though!

If such a regime existed, (one that would conscript foreigners who didn’t speak the language), they’d put the newly indentured servants to work in jobs that didn’t need to speak the language. They certainly wouldn’t give these people of unreliable patriotism guns. But, even in the army, someone has to empty the trash.

You’d be surprised at how fast a person can learn another language when suddenly immersed into it and one’s survival depends upon the speed at which one learns to communicate. And never underestimate the value of copying behavior.

My first school experience was Chinese kindergarten, at age 4, in Taiwan. Being Americans, we spoke English at home, but I had a Chinese nanny, who only spoke Mandarin. In kindergarten, we spoke only Mandarin. If you want something, you learn to ask for it, or you get by with gestures.

I can only imagine that in a situation far more serious than kindergarten, such as being conscripted, being unable to communicate would be terrifying, but not impossible.

There is also a lot to be said about human nature. It has been my experience that people are generally helpful to those who need it. I am pretty sure that in any given situation, there is always someone who is willing to help the unfortunate one.

One of the French Foreign Legion HQs is about 25 km down the road from where I live. They take in men from all over the world, and the first thing these men have to do is to learn French. It’s regarded as a military duty.

Come to think of it, when I came to live here, I didn’t speak French either. But it’s not all that difficult when you are immersed in a totally francophone environment. With radio, TV, newspapers and people all French you absorb it. I find nowadays that I sometimes have to look around in my mind for an English word, while the French term comes at once.

One does make mistakes, of course. Sometimes funny ones - like the time I thought I was inviting an elderly lady to sit - I thought. I was using the term that you would use to command a dog! They took it rather well and had a good laugh at my expense.

The lesson from all of this, I suppose, is that another language is nothing to baulk at.

I’m not really debating that it’s not possible to learn if forced (by your surroundings). Rather, given the limited duration of mandatory conscription (they’re down to 6-12 months in many areas) in most countries, simply saying “you’ll learn” may not a real solution.

edit: especially since we’re talking about forced conscription here, not voluntarily signing up

This is not an unusual situation. Bretons and Basques in the French military had to learn French. Irish, Welsh, and Highlanders in the British army had to learn English. (This is historical, of course; there are few to no young monolinguals in these languages today.) In some cases they would have their own regiments under a bilingual commanding officer. I’m sorry, this is all information I’ve heard in passing in studying minority languages, so I don’t know where to look for a cite.

Gotta love Eurocentrism. Look outside Europe and or N America for a change. Polygot armies have not been usual, indeed in S Asia they were generally the rule. The language Urdu for example evolved from the mixture of Turkish, persian and local S Asian languages which were spoken within the armies. Indeed the very name, “Zaban-e-Urdu”, means the “language of the army” in Persian.

The British Indian Army also used Urdu as well as English.

First of all, it’s not actually all that difficult to get an exemption from the Israeli army. I’ve known loads and loads of Israeli-American dual citizens that had one because they grew up in the US and wanted to go to college after high school, not go run around southern Lebanon for two years getting shot at by Hezbollah. Some of these people spoke little to no Hebrew and would have had some significant problems had they served. I strongly suspect (no data to back me up) that those people in this situation who choose to serve do actually have a strong enough connection to Israel that they speak enough Hebrew to get by.

Nevertheless, I’ve also known quite a few immigrants to Israel who went on to serve in the army. First off, all immigrants, whether they’re in the army or not, can do an ulpan (intensive Hebrew immersion class) for free. I would guess that the high rate of English-speaking abilities among Israelis would also be helpful until you learn enough Hebrew to get by. If you speak another language, though, I expect it could be harder, and you might get ghettoized with other people of your same background. (This tends to happen in Israeli society anyway…the Russian-speakers especially stick together, because there are so many of them that it’s easy to avoid non-Russian-speakers and never learn Hebrew or integrate into society at large.)

IIRC it was incredibly common in the Soviet army to have conscripts from the outlying republics who were not Russian speakers. I have a Ukrainian friend who served in the Russian army, not a huge linguistical challenge.

Back in the day when the sun didn’t set on the British Empire they’d haul anybody they could steal onto a navy ship. They didn’t care who you were or what language you spoke, they’d make a king’s sailor out of you.

Not really answering the question, but back when Macau was an Overseas Province of Portuguese, I think those who couldn’t speak Portuguese were exempted from the mandatory military service.