English As A Second Language

Security officers will often encounter individuals who do not speak English as their primary language or those who speak no English at all. In some situations a critical emergency may exist and information must be obtained quickly from a person who speaks Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, or some other language with the security officer understanding little if anything of the person’s primary language.

What to Do?

First and foremost, security officers must understand that the inability to communicate with a person will, in all likelihood, be just as frustrating for the person involved as it is for the officer. Remember to maintain your composure and refrain from raising your voice! This will not improve communication.

If a situation arises such as a lost child or a person who is ill needing help, and the security officer cannot understand the person, be certain to ask others in the vicinity if anyone can assist you in communicating with the person. Often, someone accompanying the subject may be able to better communicate.

If you cannot find someone in the immediate area to assist you in facilitating communication the following suggestions are offered:

  1. Use your radio or telephone to contact a supervisor who may be able to assist you.
  2. Use hand gestures to attempt to advise the person you are trying to help them but are struggling to communicate. Hands held in an upward position, with palms open, with hand gestures to your ears, may alert the person to your difficulty in understanding them. Remember to remain calm so you can better assist the individual seeking aid.
  3. Obtain and carry a card which has several key phrases in the languages you are most likely to encounter while performing your security duties.
  4. Maintain a list of employees who may be fluent in languages other than English within the post orders for easy access.
  5. While attempting to locate a person who can speak the needed language it may prove helpful to provide the individual with a pen and paper and, using hand gestures, encourage them to draw a picture of the assistance that is required.


Security officers have a duty to their employers and clients. With the great mix of cultures prevalent in the United States and especially in California, security officers who attempt to learn the very basics of another language will greatly improve their level of job performance and client satisfaction. They will feel empowered in challenging situations and thereby lessen the frustration they would otherwise feel. Perhaps, most importantly, they will be able to quickly and professionally assist those who may often feel isolated and marginalized in our society.