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It's tactical (and practical) to be bilingual

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January 11, 2010

It's tactical (and practical) to be bilingual

Submitted by:
PoliceOne Staff

The tactical benefit — make that necessity — of being bilingual can’t be overstated. Even if you’re not fully fluent in another language that’s common in your area, knowing how to issue key commands like, Stop! Police! Drop the weapon! Show me your hands! is an absolute must when it comes to your safety and survival.

1. Take the time to learn.

If you’re lucky enough to be in an area that offers a financial reward for learning another language, good for you. Do it. If you’re not, do it anyway! There are books and other learning materials designed specifically for police that can effectively teach you, at the very least, the basic crucial commands every officer needs to be able to effectively deliver. Chances are good you can also find an affordable course or a tutor in your area who can also help you.

2. Pay attention to dialects.

It’s important to understand that many languages have several ways of saying the same thing. With that, it’s important to double check with a few other sources to make sure that the words and phrases you’re learning are those that will be understood and accepted on the street. You might even consider running the phrases you’re learning past an informant or someone you’ve had contact with in the past…but don’t rely on them alone for confirmation that you’re on target. If you start yelling commands in some outdated or overly formal manner, you can lose impact, both in terms of understanding and respect.

3. Practice on your own.

As with anything, the more you practice, the better you’ll get. Make the effort to rehearse the delivery of commands and engaging in necessary conversations repeatedly and consistently. That way, you’ll be more prepared to use that second language more quickly and effectively than you would if you just spent an hour a week thinking about what you just read, heard or went over in class.

4. Make sure you’re covering all the linguistic bases.

Make sure you’re considering all the different languages in your area and, if the population of people who speak a particular language is large enough and your odds of having contact with someone from that culture are strong enough, make sure you’re adding that language to you “to learn” list – again, even if it’s just the crucial police commands.

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