The Fall 2015 issue of the FOP Journal discussed how mastering another language can translate into major career advantages. Here are some more insights from FOP members about gaining and using foreign-language skills.
Every state has a percentage of residents who do not regularly speak English at home or in the community. According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, 3.8% of Mississippians do not speak English in the home, the lowest percentage in the nation. At the other end of the spectrum is California, with 43.8% of residents speaking a language other than English.
There are many reasons for non-English-speaking populations to grow in certain areas, whether urban and rural, such as immigrants attracted to employment opportunities and refugees fleeing political or violent regimes. Of course, border states also tend to have a large representation of limited English proficiency (LEP) populations — New Mexico at 36.5%, Texas at 34.7% and Arizona at 27%.
For foreign language skills to be truly effective in aiding law enforcement professionals on the job, it takes more than assimilating a few slang phrases or learning a formulated vocabulary from a textbook. One also should account for cultural influences, especially as they pertain to people’s attitudes toward authorities. Oftentimes, LEP individuals may exhibit distrust due to past experiences in their homelands or fear of immigration issues being raised if they cooperate with officers. Law enforcement professionals must find a way around those cultural obstacles, and that’s when fluency in a foreign language can make a significant difference.
“I think people just feel more comfortable speaking in their native languages,” says Officer Michele Giampolo of Minnesota FOP Lodge #1, a member of the St. Paul Police Department.
What’s more, bilingual officers become an asset to their fellow law enforcement professionals. “I am the only Spanish speaker in my Department, and one of three in a three-county area. We’re always helping each other, and that helps with community relations and assisting other agencies,” says Justin Parranto of Minnesota FOP Lodge #1, a detective with the Inver Grove Heights Police Department.
|Top 10 Non-English Languages Spoken in the United States
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. Language Use in the United States: 2011.
Both Giampolo and Parranto studied Spanish throughout grade school and high school. Giampolo signed up for several college-level Spanish courses, and Parranto chose it as his second major. As students, they each lived abroad in native Spanish-speaking countries — Giampolo in Venezuela and Parranto in Mexico.
“I had to rely on Spanish to survive the day. I think you have to be immersed in it [to really become fluent],” Giampolo explains.
Working professionals typically do not have the luxury of leaving their jobs and families for months to live in a foreign land. But Parranto says there are other options to create immersion situations closer to home.
“Community colleges offer discussion groups that are usually free and for any level of speakers. Everyone there is practicing their Spanish and there is no native language allowed. That increases the ability to hear, understand and speak the language,” he suggests. “These communication groups really help.”
For more information about the benefits of second-language fluency and some educational programs that can help you achieve it, check out “Can You Say Career Potential?”