One of the biggest questions in education in the last few decades — as universities emphasize the knowledge of foreign languages in more and more undergraduate and graduate programs — is what languages will best suit the enterprising student to be best equipped for a successful future within their field?
Within social work this can be a tricky question, and can have much to do with where the student wants to work, as well as what their general aims are in getting their degree. If the student plans to do work abroad, for example, with such organizations as Doctors Without Borders or the US Peace Corps, or even with the United Nations — the deftness a student has with a foreign language can make a compelling application stand out in ways that are striking to organizations who are in constant need of fluent foreign speakers.
If the student is planning to work domestically, one language that can be of great help — because of the proximity of the US to many countries who speak it — is Spanish. Immigration to the US from Spanish-speaking nations is on the rise due to better work benefits and educational opportunities for the children of immigrants. An article from Migrationinformation.org, a site dedicated to providing information on immigration statistics, among other subjects, recently pointed out that of an immigrant population of over 40 million in the United States, close to 30% alone were from Mexico.
The social worker who can provide assistance to Spanish-speaking immigrants or natives who have grown up with the language is making a much needed service possible. In hospitals and schools, native Spanish-speakers with little grasp of English are often placed in potentially terrifying situations in which their basic needs must be met. Medical clinics which provide patient care are deeply in need of social workers who can reassure patients who are often scared and confused and need medical treatment more than most.
While Spanish is by far the largest language second to English in the US, speakers of Chinese are a sizeable minority gaining ground in the country. The language may appeal to potential social workers in many respects — much business is currently conducted with China, and fluency in Chinese will help those in social work both broaden their abilities within the field as well as in other fields should they choose to branch out with their experiences.
In sum, choosing a language for a career in social work can be a large and confusing question which hangs above the heads of many who choose the field as a career move. But understanding the demographics of both the type of communities you would most like to help in as well as those of the wider culture — whether your aim is to go abroad or to stay in the United States — can be of enormous help in understanding your options. For many, social work is an area of the work force in which they can do the most good, allowing them to provide care where it is most needed at to those who need it most. Understanding those you would serve, and the kind of language abilities that will help you serve them best, is a key part of a successful career within the field.