Cómo estás? Muy bien, gracias! It’s not as simple as answering a question like, “Hello, How AreYou? Very well, ThankYou.” However, Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office employees are getting a chance to not only test their second language proficiency but to get paid for it, as well.
In July, the VBSO began offering a bilingual stipend to personnel who demonstrate oral proficiency in a secondary language. It’s one more tool Sheriff Paul Lanteigne says, “we’re using to attract and retain qualified personnel, especially deputies.” The stipend, which can pay up to $100.00 monthly, is awarded to those individuals who are certified proficient in a foreign language-with emphasis on dialogue.
For a few VBSO employees, like Captain Elliot Ortiz who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, joined the United States Marine Corps and settled in Virginia Beach after a four year tour of duty, he considers Spanish his first language, and welcomes the voluntary testing as an extension of his day-to-day duties. But, Ortiz will be the first to admit, “It wasn’t easy.” What the test aims to accomplish, in Ortiz’ estimation, is to “look for a depth of knowledge” in a particular language and to ensure that the candidate for a salary stipend has a basic working knowledge of the language and is able to translate from English to Spanish and Spanish to English (in his case).
Spanish is not the only language available for testing.
The Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office also has employees with varying levels of oral and written comprehension of French, German, Italian, Tagalog, Russian, Cantonese, Arabic and American sign language, just to name a few. Some, but not all may choose to have their proficiency put to the test. There are 48 languages that Language Testing International, an independent company contracted by the VBSO, is available to measure oral proficiency. LTI establishes a rating review process and the sheriff’s office is not part of the review process nor does it mediate any discrepancies between the appointee and LTI.
The testing fee is $143.00 and is paid by the employee. The approximately 30-50 minute live, oral interview is conducted by telephone and must be re-administered every two years to earn employees recertification. Testers want to know if the test takers can use the language effectively and appropriately in real-life situations.
Sheriff Lanteigne’s idea to offer employees a stipend was prompted largely by a growing number of Hispanic inmates who occupy jail cells as a result of a crack-down on illegal immigrants. Lanteigne says, “the need to communicate with these inmates often sent our jail staff scurrying to find employees who speak Spanish.”
Now, according to Lanteigne, “well have an accurate list of employees who we know to be proficient in foreign languages and who will be readily available to assist us in communicating with the inmates.” Plus,” I also see it as an opportunity to bump up the salaries of our law enforcement personnel in these challengingrecruitment times we face.”