Spanish for Social Services Staff

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The Spanish language has become increasingly important to Social Workers, Eligibility Workers, and social services support staff who need to interact with a diverse population. Clients who apply for aid or who require counseling all need to provide basic information and documentation for various types of assistance that are available to them. In return, the social services staff needs to understand questions, and offer instructions that the clients can follow.

In California the need for Spanish language skills is always present. And social services staff who are bilingual, when working with native Spanish speakers, can be more effective in their jobs. They are also more valued and often higher paid. While it is optimal to be fluent in a second language, it isn’t always necessary. For example, asking for a client’s name, directing them to the waiting area, or making an appointment requires some good vocabulary words and basic sentence formations. As the Spanish-speaking client moves beyond the support staff to the professional staff, however, a deeper knowledge of the language is more likely needed.

Some students choose to study Spanish from the beginning with the aim of understanding the grammatical constructions and obtaining a rich vocabulary. Others choose to focus on courses that are specifically geared to their professional fields. Probably the best, and quickest, results come from a combination of the two. For example, if you have a selection of key words and phrases already in your memory you can use them on the job right away. Not only are you practicing your language skills in the field, but you are also showing your client a respect for their culture and for them as individuals. Even if you are making mistakes the Spanish-speaking client will be more relaxed with someone who is trying as hard as they are to communicate. Often it is mutual laughter in a tough situation that inspires confidence and relieves tension.

The California Board of Behavioral Sciences approves some language programs for continuing education credits. This would be a good place to start for choosing the program that will help you improve your communication skills in Spanish. Maria Oliveira offers courses that are approved by the BBS at her school in Pinole, California. These courses combine basic Spanish sentence formations with focused words and phrases specific to social services situations; certification is available. For students who are not in the area, including out of state social services language learners, there is also a CD and Workbook program that can be purchased for self-study.

Whichever path you might choose to learn Spanish for your social services work, it is a worthwhile goal that will profit both you and your clients. Think how much easier it will be to function in a job when you are not dependent on third party translators. Consider the efficiency you will enjoy by taking care of matters immediately, and with diminished misunderstandings. Improve your workplace situation soon by committing yourself to learning Spanish.