Academic journal article Social Work

Culturally Competent Social Work Research: Methodological Considerations for Research with Language Minorities

Academic journal article Social Work

Culturally Competent Social Work Research: Methodological Considerations for Research with Language Minorities

Article excerpt

Due to the growing number of immigrants, foreign-born people in the United States are increasing, and a vast majority (84 percent) of these foreign-born people speak a language other than English (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). The Census Bureau's 2008 data indicated that 55.8 million people (or 20 percent of the total U.S. population) spoke a language other than English, which marked a 25 percent increase since 2000, and more than one-third of these people did not speak English well. In the United States, individuals who are not fluent in English are referred to as "language minority" individuals (Li, McCardle, Clark, Kinsella, & Berch, 2001).

Understanding the needs of this population is important, because the ability to speak English greatly affects how well people communicate with and navigate through social institutions. Well-documented evidence suggests that limited English proficiency often becomes a barrier to access and adherence to necessary treatments and services (Derose & Baker, 2000; Fiscella, Franks, Doescher, & Saver, 2002; Sentell, Shumway, & Snowden, 2007). Programming that does not incorporate the needs of language minorities can inadvertently contribute to poorer quality of care and, hence, lead to health disparities (Ponce, Hays, & Cunningham, 2006). Research that aims to understand the social and health service needs of this vulnerable population is then vital to the attempt to reduce the gap in access to and quality of services.

Unfortunately, research on language minorities is scant, perhaps due to the challenges involved in conducting research in other languages (Frayne, Bums, Hardt, Rosen, & Moskowitz, 1996), and the heterogeneity of this population requires researchers to design studies that are not only linguistically, but also culturally appropriate for each specific language group (Li et al., 2001). It is also possible that little publicity and lack of public outcry about this issue may lead to the unintended yet continued exclusion of this population from research studies (Frayne et al., 1996). To address growing concern about the exclusion of language minorities from national studies, a group of representatives from the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development conveyed a work group and issued a report, Diverse Voices (Li et al., 2001). This report urged researchers to overcome barriers that prevent the inclusion of language minorities in national studies. The group argued that lack of data on language minorities is problematic because both policymakers and service providers may not have the necessary information to meet the needs of this population.

Social work may be uniquely well positioned to meet this challenge as professional standard calls for cultural competence; however, the literature that specifically discusses language-related issues and culturally competent research methods with language minorities is regrettably limited in social work. In fact, an extensive search of the databases Academic Search Premier, Psychology and Behavioral Science Collection, Social Work Abstracts, and Soclndex with Full Text using the key words "language minority," "non-English speaking population," "limited English proficiency," and "cross-cultural" yielded no literature that explicitly discussed culturally responsive social work research methods specific to language minorities. A handful of social work articles have addressed cultural and methodological issues in research with minorities and vulnerable populations (Amador, Travis, McAuley, Bernard, & McCutcheon, 2006; Potocky & Rodgers-Farmer, 1998; Poupart, Baker, & Horse, 2009; Shams & Robinson, 2005), but none of these articles suggested or discussed strategies on how to include language minorities in research investigations.

Given the unique challenges of including language minorities in research, this article extends the literature by bringing together disparate research on language minorities to provide a conceptual framework for research with this population. …

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