Lack of interpreters hampers western efforts to train Ukrainian military

Germany and its allies are struggling to train Ukrainian soldiers on donated military hardware due to a severe shortage of qualified interpreters, according to a recent report in the Financial Times.

The interpreter shortage has emerged as the number one challenge facing the multinational EU training mission launched last November to prepare Ukrainian forces on a range of Western weapons and tactics. By year’s end, Germany alone expects to have trained 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers. However, the lack of military and technical vocabulary among available interpreters has slowed progress.

“Interpreters are challenge number one,” said Dutch Brigadier General Martin Bonn, deputy head of the EU training mission, as quoted in the Financial Times. Kyiv and Western nations have provided translators, but they often lack the specialized terminology required for complex military systems.

This issue is not unique to Germany. Denmark has also faced delays in training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighters due to the lack of adequately cleared translators. While Ukrainian soldiers have expressed gratitude for the Western assistance, they concede that newer weapons systems are preferable to older ones like the 1960s-era Leopard 1 tanks Germany supplies.

Meanwhile, the United States military has undertaken its own efforts to bridge communication gaps with Ukrainian partners. According to Igor Marach of Technolex Translation Studio in Ukraine, “When Russia started the war, we saw a big decline in the volume of translations. But after a while, we started receiving many requests for Ukrainian translation in the military domain. It is connected with the military help provided to Ukraine by the United States and other countries.”

Marach stated that demand for Ukrainian military translations has grown 50% over the last year. 

The US-based Defense Language Institute and Indiana University recently collaborated to publish a bilingual English-Ukrainian phrasebook to aid US soldiers in communicating with Ukrainian allies. However, persisting language barriers underscore the vital need for qualified interpreters and translators to facilitate the transfer of complex military knowledge and equipment.

With Western nations ramping up weapons deliveries to counter Russia’s invasion, the interpreter shortage seems likely to remain a bottleneck unless concerted efforts are made to expand this specialized talent pool. Creative solutions may be required to enable the level of US-Ukrainian military cooperation both sides desire.

Renato Beninatto
Renato Beninatto co-founded Nimdzi to provide insights to investors, analysts, buyers, and suppliers of language services and has written three books on global business.


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