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5 Reasons Why Safety Professionals Need Language and Cultural Skills Posted by on Jul 14, 2014 in Language Learning

Guest Post by Ruben Olson

Corrections officers and prison officials encounter a wide range of culture and language barriers on a daily basis. Incorporating training that addresses these challenges usually takes back seat to the more practical and tactical aspects of working in jails and prisons. However, having a better understanding of the benefits of language and cultural training can make the difference between having a mediocre staff and a stellar staff. Training and educating officers in a variety of basic language communication skills and cultural competencies gives them tools that will separate them from the pack and provide many lasting benefits. Let’s look at a few.

1. More effective communication

This is the “no brainer” reason. Developing even very basic language skills can assist staff in better relating to and communicating with detainees. Usually intake or booking of prisoners is the first contact upon arrival at a jail or prison facility. This is high-anxiety time for the individual being “booked in.” so being able to effectively communicate and engage with this person can streamline the process of data gathering, data input, and assessment of the individual. Having staff trained and having tools available to assist in translation of questions creates more accurate records as well as a more amicable environment of communication.

2. Lifelong learner philosophy

In correctional settings this component is most often overlooked yet critical in the development of professional staff. Promoting an environment that encourages personal and professional development will assist in building a staff of lifelong learners, or people who will want to explore and seek out new learning opportunities. The New York State Curriculum and Assessment Committee for Languages Other Than English (LOTE) relay a message that people “…should be prepared to acquire independently languages that are now less commonly taught but whose importance is increasing with evolving world conditions.” Presenting new learning opportunities creates a diversified and well-rounded staff. Language and cultural education deviates from much of the routine, no-nonsense, hands on aspects of dealing with a jail or prison environment by providing practical skills that encourage exploration and reach beyond the walls of the work environment (yes, pun intended).

3. Morale booster

Morale has many faces. For a Corrections Officer or Prison Guard that can mean a sense of safety, camaraderie, competition, satisfaction in work, showing compassion, and feelings of contribution along with a host of others. Educating staff in language and culture is an opportunity to check many of those boxes. A 2013 Gallup Poll, entitled State of the American Workplace, asks questions surrounding materials and equipment, importance, growth, recognition, camaraderie, development, and learning used to measure worker engagement or job satisfaction. Workplaces that support more diversified and creative opportunities for their employees generally showed higher worker engagement.

4. Better public image

Historically, jails and prisons do not receive many positive accolades. Although mainstream news may not cover a story on prison staff that has the capability to communicate and deal effectively with detainees from numerous cultural backgrounds, the inmates know, and their families know, and that news will travel throughout the community to create a positive or negative view.

The publication Building A Better Law Enforcement Workforce: Findings From the Arizona Law Enforcement Leadership Roundtable on Training and Education affirms “a better-educated workforce has fewer complaints and fewer ethical problems.”

Weaving in language and cultural opportunities for staff can help build the positive PR any organization strives for.

5. Increased tolerance and compassion

In an environment of harsh and often cruel circumstances, education in culture and language can increase tolerance, understanding, and reduce prejudice. Exposure to language skills should also incorporate learning about the cultural background of the language being spoken allowing for a more intimate understanding of its peoples, practices, and beliefs. With this knowledge, staff members are more likely to exhibit greater appreciation for diversity and a more compassionate demeanor.

Offering language and culture learning opportunities to jail and prison workers and guards provides an edge and opportunity to develop skills that will far surpass the five reasons briefly discussed here. Knowledge gained through studying another language and the appreciation learned for other cultures will enhance the toolkit that officers can rely upon and employ whether personal or professional.

If your public safety organization is looking for language training programs, you can learn more about Transparent Language’s corporate language-learning solutions.

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About the Author: Transparent Language

Transparent Language is a leading provider of best-practice language learning software for consumers, government agencies, educational institutions, and businesses. We want everyone to love learning language as much as we do, so we provide a large offering of free resources and social media communities to help you do just that!


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