Learning a second language may seem like something that you do just for fun, or it might seem like a hassle that isn’t worth the time. But a second language can actually have some huge benefits to your nursing career.
Being bilingual gets a foot in the door
People get sick regardless of the language they speak, and they still need help. Communication in health care is absolutely key, and if you have the skills to speak to someone in another language, that can give you an edge over your competition when you’re looking for employment. Particularly if all other things are equal, your second language could be the key that gets you the job.
Cultural understanding informs care
When you learn a second language, you also begin to understand more about the culture. You want to be able to treat all of your patients with dignity and respect, and you also want to be able to educate them about their health. By understanding more about their culture, you’ll better understand things like why they might have delayed seeking treatment, whether or not they’ll be likely to follow your instructions, and even how best to approach them with information so that they’re more likely to listen and do as you ask.
Foreign language expands your options
You’ve heard of areas of New York, for example, like Chinatown or Little Italy — pockets of the city where a large amount of people from a particular culture reside. Pockets like this exist in many towns and cities across the country. If you only speak one language, jobs within those pockets are crossed off your list before you even start looking. On the other hand, if you speak the language, you’ve just opened up a list of new opportunities for yourself.
Alternatively, perhaps you apply at a hospital or doctor’s office that renders assistance in foreign countries after disasters. Speaking a second language proves that you would fit well with that.
Market yourself as a translator
By being fluent in a second language, you can market yourself as more than “just a nurse.” You can point out your value as a translator for other staff who may not be fluent in the language — in fact, this in an actual job called a medical interpreter. This does a couple things for you: it increases your value because you have a skill others may not have, and it gives you the potential for higher pay.
Language learning improves your brain
Learning a new language provides more benefits than simply knowing another language. It improves your ability to multitask, solve problems, and makes you more creative in coming up with solutions. A study by the University of Chicago also indicates that making emotional decisions in your second language may make it easier to make the decision, as it may make you less emotionally connected. In a healthcare setting, where you may form somewhat emotional relationships with patients, this may be one of the biggest benefits.
If you’re going to learn a foreign language, you can take it through your nursing school. Both on-campus and online nursing programs usually offer a foreign language option, and if they don’t offer it directly through the program, ask your academic advisor if you can add a class. You can also find a variety of apps and websites that can help you learn. It’s important to make a thoughtful choice in which foreign language you choose to learn, as well. Spanish tends to be a popular choice, and is good if you live in areas such as the southwestern U.S. or Florida, where there is a high Spanish-speaking population. Mandarin Chinese is fast becoming another popular option.
Your training as a nurse will be your best weapon in seeking employment. But being fluent in a second language gives you a leg up.