In recent years, the increase in immigration has introduced new challenges to these employees as language barriers can obstruct clear communication between civilians and the officers and professionals who work to keep them safe. This highlights a need for public organizations to invest in foreign language training to maintain the best possible service within these communities.
The U.S. population has been rapidly changing shape in recent years due to a surge in immigration. As MigrationPolicies.org reported, in 2009, non-U.S.-born immigrants accounted for around 12.5 percent of the population. Around 30 percent of the immigrants who have come to the U.S. entered the country after 2000, indicating a relatively large percentage of newer immigrants. The population is something of a multiethnic mosaic, with 47 percent identifying as Hispanic, and 24 percent as Asian.
Significantly, the increase in the cultural diversity of the population has linguistic implications as well. According to MigrationPolicies.org, 52 percent of the foreign-born immigrants to the U.S. were considered to be Limited English Proficient – having no or little grasp on the English language. The vast majority of the non-English-speaking population reported that Spanish was their native language, with 62 percent of families using Spanish in the home. Other commonly heard languages were Chinese, spoken by 4.6 percent of non-native families, and Tagalog, at 2.7 percent.
These multi-ethnic populations are marked by other characteristics as well. For example, many foreign-born families, particularly those of Latino heritage, tend to be larger than U.S.-born families, due to differences in cultural practices and socioeconomic circumstance, a report from the University of Washington detailed. Additionally, immigrant populations tend to center around areas of greater urban density, commonly opting to live in cities and other metropolitan areas.
Frontline public servants then have a need to take into account the rapidly diversifying nature of the communities they serve. Programs such as police departments and paramedic units should encourage staff training and development to prepare employees to meet these needs. As the U.S. population continues to diversify, foreign language training will become a necessity for efficiency of operation, customer service and, most importantly, health and safety.
Paramedics operating in communities that have large immigrant populations must ensure that they can effectively communicate with their patients and the patients’ families. Especially in an emergency setting, speed and reliability of information can very literally be the difference between life and death. Additionally, doctors, nurses and other non-emergency medical personnel can use a cultivated knowledge of foreign languages to improve customer service and provide a higher quality of care. In instances when practitioners must outline treatment plans, explain drug schedules or convey other similar information that can have a significant impact on a patient’s well-being, being able to speak with individuals in their own language can help simplify complicated medical explanations and can result in better treatment.
In a related vein, police officers can also benefit from foreign language training. As members of their community, it’s important for police officers to gain the respect and support of the populations they serve, and being able to effectively communicate with foreign-born Americans is a good way to foster a sense of trust and community between citizens and police, and can lead to increased safety and cooperation. Organizations such as neighborhood watch groups that can work closely with police to increase the efficiency of the officers.