Hard times have fallen on many of the world's people groups, and proficiency with foreign languages for social workers is a particular benefit.
Social workers help people from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who have experienced temporary set backs to find solutions to problems that could include lack of housing, health care, education, child care and employment.
Heavy immigration of non-native English speakers has changed the population of those who use social services in the United States (U.S.). Also, many social workers seek to expand their experience by volunteering or finding paid work in their field abroad.
Here are some languages that social workers who are employed at home or abroad find useful.
The U.S. is the destination of many people who are actually natives of neighboring countries in North, Central and South America, and Spanish is the official language of most of those countries. Some people from those areas are fleeing social oppression and need initial help when they arrive in the U.S., or they are otherwise economically disadvantaged. A social worker who speaks Spanish can assess underlying issues associated with these clients and connect them with the most appropriate resources to meet their needs. Also, Spanish speaking social workers who want to use their skills abroad can take volunteer trips to places like Guatemala and Ecuador.
Canada, which is the northern neighbor of the U.S., has many French speaking citizens who could use the help of French speaking social workers in the U.S. if they decided to immigrate south. However, the majority of French speaking immigrants who seek the help of social workers in the U.S. come from countries like Haiti, Chad, Senegal and the Ivory Coast. Some of these French speaking immigrants come to the U.S. because they have been displaced from their homes by natural disasters like the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti; others move to the U.S. for greater economic prospects. Social workers who speak French can help smooth the transition process for these clients no matter what the reason for their immigration status.
While Romanians are not immigrating to the U.S. in large numbers, the country has many opportunities for social workers to volunteer to help under-served populations within the country. These volunteer jobs are usually not for social workers who want to influence policies and conduct administrative work; the volunteer opportunities in Romania allow workers to engage directly with clients. For example, orphanages in the Eastern European country are filled with children of all ages, and native child care professionals are often over worked. Social workers can take a volunteer vacation to care for these orphans, and activities could include everything from changing baby diapers to playing billiards with a pre-teen. Knowing the language makes getting around the country and interaction with children and orphanage staff a little easier.
Brazil has an emerging economy that promises to be one of the most prosperous in the region given enough time and nurturing. However, there are still pockets of extreme poverty, and hands on workers like missionaries and volunteer social workers often help people whose needs have been largely ignored by their government. The official language of Brazil is Portuguese which may not be so hard to pick up for a social worker who is also proficient in Spanish.
Successful social workers are not only knowledgeable about available community resources for those in need, but they also know how to connect with their clients on a personal level. Understanding the language of a client is a key step to establishing a trust based relationship that the social worker needs to be effective. The above described foreign languages for social workers reflect the native tongues of people around the world who have traditionally needed the most help.