nurse assisting a patient

Testing for more than 120 languages in over 60 countries, Language Testing International (LTI) has seen the ACTFL language proficiency tests applied in so many unique ways and capacities—most notably within academic, government, and commercial sectors. However, the nonprofit sector is another area that LTI proudly serves and in which we advocate for the use of language proficiency testing.

Nonprofit organizations that provide community services, for example, are better equipped to maximize their inclusivity and impact when their leadership, staff, and offered services are reflective and representative of the community they serve, and the languages spoken in them.

How is this accomplished?

In any industry—not just in nonprofits—an often-overlooked variable in determining the success (or lack thereof) of a provided service is based on the provider’s level of cultural competency. As a customer, consumer, or service recipient, do you feel seen, heard, understood, and represented? Was that service advertised or communicated to you in your primary language and delivered in a context and tone that was culturally and linguistically familiar, comfortable, and relevant to you?

These questions are all factors that human beings consider—be it consciously or subconsciously—when choosing a service provider; whether it’s deciding which retailer to buy a product from, which class to take, which vendor to hire, or often more importantly, whether one feels comfortable enough to seek help in a crisis situation.

Celia Patitucci is an HIV educator and certified tester who has worked on the prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. In a recent episode of LTI’s podcast LANGUAGE IS YOUR SUPERPOWER, Celia shared key insights regarding the importance of language proficiency in the provision of culturally competent care through her work with Central Florida’s diverse LGBTQ+ community.

Celia’s work has included offering services, such as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), HIV testing, general medical guidance, and services specific to transgender and non-binary members of the community who, as Celia explains, are “part of the community that you have to be culturally competent” about, because “their needs are different than somebody else’s.”

As a native-Spanish speaker from Puerto Rico, Celia lives in Central Florida, which boasts one of the largest populations of Puerto Rican citizens outside of the island of Puerto Rico. Celia first became involved in nonprofit work after volunteering to help her local community in the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, which happened on their Latinx-themed night. It was through her volunteering efforts that she noticed “there [were] not a lot of Spanish-speaking testers” to support the healthcare needs of the Spanish-dominant LGBTQ+ population in the region.

Celia obtained her HIV tester certification through a Department of Health sponsorship and began getting calls from local community organizations to offer her expertise, including her command of Spanish. As a native Puerto Rican, she also possessed the cultural competency necessary to understand, connect with, and provide appropriate interventions for persons who identify as Latinx.

“About fifty-percent of our clients are Spanish-speaking,” Celia shared. “I think also that that’s part of the community that for many years was not targeted.” Now, “a lot of agencies … are being more conscientious about having not only Spanish-speaking employees, but also, culturally competent employees.” The Spanish-speaking LGBTQ+ “population here in Orlando is mainly Puerto Rican. So, that’s very important for us to know how they think and why would they not get tested. There’s a cultural difference there with the Hispanic community. You have to be very clear with the way that you speak and the words that you use. It’s not just learning the language; it’s knowing the culture.”

It is work like Celia Patitucci’s that illustrates how the power of language extends beyond the more recognizable workspaces of business and academia. Many individuals from marginalized communities, who are innately competent in another language, cultural norms, and ways of communication, often wish they could find a way to help those in their community who are less fortunate or experiencing a crisis.

As Celia and many others have demonstrated, when language is a significant obstacle or barrier for meeting the needs of underserved individuals, adding language proficiency testing to the industry-specific required certifications of your outreach team can result in increased access to services, better health outcomes, and heightened social impact. Your organization can be an agent of change and a champion of the community you operate in during their greatest time of need.

To take steps to certify your employees’ language skills, visit www.languagetesting.com to get started.

Listen to Celia’s powerful story in our LANGUAGE IS YOUR SUPERPOWER podcast here.

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