Knowing a foreign language can help a social worker communicate with clients that are immigrants and refugees. Social work clients are usually members of underprivileged minorities and of immigrant and refugee groups. Hispanics are now the country’s largest minority group. Furthermore, their population is about 37 million, according to the 2000 Census. There are many reasons for this, and limited familiarity with English is just one problem. The inability to use English effectively also serves as a roadblock to using social services.
One way to fix this is for Hispanic clients to learn English. Experienced social workers know that clients on the margins of society are unlikely to be able to master English. These clients are usually struggling to survive and need help to meet their basic needs. The role of the social worker is to help needy clients, whether they are individuals, families, groups, or communities.
Communication Is Key In Social Work
One necessary skill needed to work with underprivileged people is the ability to communicate across the impediments of race, class, gender, disability status, age, sexual orientation, and language. Social work requirements address most of these barriers but have not taken into account the need to help students overcome language barriers. Social work programs need to help students learn Spanish and enlarge their responsiveness and sensitivity to the needs of Hispanic clients.
Few Colleges Require Language
To meet the educational standards for social work as set by the Council on Social Work Education (the accrediting body for social work educational programs), social work majors have to complete 80 credit hours in social work studies and related courses. That makes it unfeasible for the social work program to add a foreign language requirement. Most colleges also require specific general studies courses. Unfortunately, the requirements for studying a foreign language are minimal if it exists at all. Most colleges consider foreign languages as elective coursework.
A Foreign Language adds Cultural Competency
Social workers need information about many ethnic groups. Descriptions of language, culture, religious institutions, marriage and family patterns, help-seeking behavior, and social mores are available for several ethnic groups, with a focus on the most underprivileged. Supplemental texts, written by sociologists on race and ethnicity, also provide a wealth of information on various ethnic groups. Knowledge of ethnic groups, social dynamics, and suitable values and attitudes, help social workers reach across cultural barriers to provide practice skills.
One cultural anthropologist suggested that social workers should study a variety of cultures in order to better understand minority clients. This way of thinking has influenced social work educators who are focusing on different ways in which social workers and clients view each other. They examine the positions that they occupy in their worlds and the belief systems of both. The social worker learns the client’s beliefs works and adjusts their approach so that it is acceptable, and helpful to the client.
Social work education stresses the significance of knowledge about and respect for diversity. It also underscores the development of cross-cultural practical skills. Furthermore, the skill to speak a foreign language is overlooked.
Knowing Another Language Promotes Cultural Understanding
The Council on Social Work Education does not speak to the issue of learning a foreign language. Instead, it concentrates on diversity. Social work programs mix together content that encourages understanding, support, and respect for people from various backgrounds. So, the content emphasizes the connected and multifaceted nature of culture and personal identity. Additionally, it guarantees that social services meet the needs of the groups served and are culturally relevant.
The National Association of Social Workers also has standards for cultural ability in social work. They include the following: “Agencies and providers of services are expected to take reasonable steps to provide services and information in an appropriate language other than English to ensure that people with limited English proficiency are effectively informed and can effectively participate in and benefit from its programs.”
Cross Cultural Social Work
This idea is not part of social work education. In an article on preparing social workers for cross-cultural work, social workers are encouraged not to expect clients to speak their language. Instead, social workers should learn to speak the client’s language. There is limited interest in developing second language proficiency in social workers. However, at least two social work educational programs have language requirements as part of the curriculum.
An evaluation of the programs showed that students who completed this adapted language immersion program performed better in language skills. Furthermore, they did better than students who learned through the conventional series of four semester-long Spanish courses.