Among the most common criticisms of Americans by members of the European community come from our inability to speak multiple languages. A businessperson from Amsterdam who can speak at least one language other than Dutch has a distinct advantage over an American competitor in the global marketplace. The same criticism can be made of the vast majority of America's law enforcement community. Although very few officers actually interact across international boundaries, dealing with the complexities of other cultures and languages is now an essential part of domestic law enforcement.
With people from different nations coming into the United States, few areas of the country remain untouched by immigrants seeking a new life. From the outset, immigrants must become immersed in the daily life of America, and as a result must interact with the different levels of government and the law enforcement agencies that are a part of the government.
Because the job of being a law enforcement agent often depends on the agent gathering information and communicating clearly with citizens about their rights and the situation they are involved in, a language barrier presents an enormous problem to an agent trying to do her job. Communicating effectively with victims, witnesses, and even suspects or perpetrators is essential if an investigation of any kind is to be undertaken and completed properly. While some may maintain that it is the immigrant's responsibility to learn English, because it is the responsibility of government to meet the needs of the public it serves, the bulk of the responsibility for establishing understanding rests with the law enforcement officer.
It is estimated that less than 10 percent of law enforcement officers in the United States are fluent in a language other than English. This stands in contrast to the wide array of languages that are spoken by more than half of the American people; in many cases the only language spoken in a household is one other than English.
As a multilingual applicant, you possess an advantage over all applicants that only speak English. You will be able to pursue a variety of jobs within the government and will be able to build much necessary communication between the government and the public. Languages that are especially helpful for a law enforcement officer to know include:
You may also base a decision about which language to learn on what part of the United States you are considering working in. Many immigrant populations are concentrated in large communities across the country. Massachusetts, for example, has a large Brazilian population, for which it would be helpful to learn Portuguese, whereas California has a large Mexican population, so it would be helpful to speak Spanish there.
There have been many legislative attempts in recent years to establish English as the official language of the United States. Each of these legislative attempts has failed, due in no small measure to opposition that has come from citizens recognizing the need to maintain cultural diversity and to avoid exclusion of citizens who speak other languages.