Using the Sex Offender Risk Appraisal Guide (SORAG)

Introduction

Following up on my article about how to use the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG), this article reviews how to use a tool that is bundled with that tool, the Sex Offender Risk Appraisal Guide (SORAG). Like the VRAG, this is an actuarial tool that can be used to predict the risk of re-offending among sex offenders.

Before reading about the SORAG, it is helpful to review the VRAG post as many of the elements that are covered in that post are required before proceeding to the SORAG items. It is recommended that any completion of the SORAG be preceded by a completion of the VRAG as this will save you a significant amount of time.

Completing the SORAG

Like the VRAG, the first step is to complete the Childhood & Adolescent Taxon Scale (CATS) (scheduled for Feb 20) worksheet and the list of Conduct Disorder Symptoms.

Cormier-Lang Criminal History Scores

In order to answer item 5 on the SORAG, Criminal History Score for Non-Violent Offenses Prior to the Index Offense, it’s necessary to complete the Cormier-Lang Criminal History worksheet also provided on the SORAG. This worksheet is completed by filling out the number of non-violent offenses and applying the weight to them noted on the sheet.

Sex Offender Risk Appraisal Guide (SORAG) Items

The SORAG itself has 14 items that are similar to those found on the VRAG.

  1. Lived with both biological parents to age 16 (except for death of parent)
  2. Elementary School Maladjustment
  3. History of alcohol problems
  4. Marital status (at the time of or prior to index offense)
  5. Criminal history score for nonviolent offenses (from Cormier-Lang system)
  6. Criminal history score for violent offenses (from Cormier-Lang system)
  7. Number of previous convictions for sexual offenses (pertains to convictions known from all available documentation to be sexual offenses prior to the index offense)
  8. History of sex offenses only against girls under 14 (including index offenses; if offender was less than 5 years older than victim, always score +4)
  9. Failure on prior conditional release (includes parole or probation violation or revocation, failure to comply, bail violation, and any new arrest while on conditional release)
  10. Age at index
  11. 11. Meets DSM criteria for any personality disorder (must be made by appropriately licensed or certified professional)
  12. Meets DSM criteria for schizophrenia (must be made by appropriately licensed or certified professional)
  13. Phallometric test results
  14. 14. a. Psychopathy Checklist score (if available, otherwise use item 12.b. CATS score)
    14. b. CATS score (from the CATS worksheet)
    14. WEIGHT (Use the highest circled weight from 12 a. or 12 b.)

You’ll note that many of these items are available from the VRAG. The tool indicates where there are overlaps in order to save you time filling out the worksheets and tools.

Determining Risk Level of Sex Offenders

After completing the tool, you must take the total score of the SORAG and compare it to the below levels.

  • A score of -17 to +2 indicates an individual is at Low risk for re-offending
  • A score of +3 to +19 indicates an individual is at Medium risk for re-offending
  • A score of +20 to +34 indicates an individual is at High risk for re-offending

An individual who is on the border between these two levels should have that indicated. For instance, someone who scores at +1 or +2 should be noted as “Low-Medium Risk” to highlight that they are at the edge of the established risk level.

Recidivism Rates using the SORAG

Rather than grouping an individual into low, medium or high risk categories, it is often more illuminating to examine the recidivism rates. These come from Violent Offenders as well.

Probability of Recidivism
SORAG score 7 years 10 years
< − 9 0.07 0.09
−9 to -4 0.15 0.12
-3 to +2 0.23 0.39
+3 to +8 0.39 0.59
+9 to +14 0.45 0.59
+15 to +19 0.58 0.76
+20 to +24 0.58 0.80
+25 to +30 0.75 0.89
> +31 1.00 1.00

References

American Psychological Association. (2006) Quinsey, V.L., Harris, G.T., Rice, M.E. & Cormier, C.A. (2006) 2nd Ed. Violent Offenders: Appraising and Managing Risk. Washington D.C: American Psychological Association.

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Coping with Flashbacks and Dissociation

Introduction

There are a variety of situations where a client or helpline caller may experience negative emotions and need to use coping strategies to help themselves cope. These can include flashbacks to abuse or trauma (such as in child sexual abuse or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), dissociation, or simply intrusive thoughts or memories of a variety of painful experiences.

In these situations, there are a variety of techniques that can be taught to clients to help them stay grounded and cope. They are summarized below.

Physical Techniques for Coping with Flashbacks

Physical techniques focus on using your physical body or space to reduce your flashbacks or dissociation.

  • Plant your feet on the ground or grasp the arms of a chair
  • Repeat one’s name, age or location
  • Go to a safe space (e.g. home), a place where you feel calm and safe

Behavioural Techniques for Coping with Flashbacks

Behavioural techniques are actions that you can take when you feel stressed or overwhelmed. Ways of expressing yourself can give you a sense of control that will make it easier to cope.

  • Journal or writing
  • Verbalizing emotions
  • Calling a crisis line or mobile crisis team
  • Going to the hospital
  • Taking a walk

Cognitive Techniques for Coping with Flashbacks

Cognitive techniques are those things that involve your thoughts. These may be more challenging than the other techniques but with practice will become easier to use when you are feeling overwhelmed. Because these are hard to summarize they’ve been listed with more detail than the above techniques.

Identify Internal Cues

Internal cues are those things that prompt you to think that you are going to dissociate or experience flashbacks. Sometimes they come on randomly, but for other individuals there is a period of feeling flushed, having a racing heart, feeling anxious or restless, or other symptoms that precede the flashbacks or dissociation. When you recognize these occurring, using the other techniques on this list can help you cope.

Identify Associational Cues

Associational cues are those things that you associate with safety and security. These can be objects, sources of support like pets or other things that remind you that things will be okay. The association between the item and the positive thoughts it brings can help ground you.

Safe Space (Mind)

Going to a “safe space” mentally and remembering that what you are experiencing is temporary can be helpful. Guided imagery (described below) can help you find this safe space, which can also be a place in your own memory where you felt safe and protected.

Meditation and Guided Imagery

Meditation is a very common strategy for coping with flashbacks and dissociation. Meditation takes practice, but by using slow and steady breathing and trying to clear your thoughts when you are not in a state of dissociation or flashbacks, you will build this skill up to where you can implement it when you sense you are going to dissociate.

Guided imagery is similar, but rather than meditating or focusing on your own breathing, you focus on a guided story that will help keep you grounded.

Label Emotions

Labeling your emotions can be a very effective way of reducing immediate stress. This can be both to yourself (merely talking out loud), or to a support like a friend, a pet or a crisis line. Many people who experience trauma have difficulty labeling their emotions and this exercise (especially when practiced as part of comprehensive therapy) can help keep you grounded.

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring refers to techniques of identifying and challenging automatic or maladaptive thoughts. The simplest way to do this is with an ABC (Action, Behaviour, Cognition) worksheet. An ABC worksheet lists actions that made you feel bad, behaviours or results from that, and the cognitions that went along with that.

For instance,

  • Action: A girl didn’t smile at me when I smiled at her
  • Behaviour: I felt bad
  • Cognition: I’m not attractive

This is an example of a common ABC scenario. The goal is to identify other possible cognitions so that you can “rewrite the script.” An example of a different script:

  • Action: A girl didn’t smile at me when I smiled at her
  • Behaviour: I realized she probably didn’t see me
  • Cognition: Nobody has judged my attractiveness yet

This process is best accomplished with a therapist, but can be done in a self-help format. The book Mind Over Mood utilizes many of these techniques.

General Self Care for Coping with Flashbacks

  • HALT – Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. These are the 4 states that make it harder to regulate your emotions and increase your impulsiveness.
  • Eating Healthy
  • Exercising
  • Medical Evaluation

5-4-3-2-1 Coping with Flashbacks

This technique is a very popular technique for coping that focuses on what you identify as real and also serves as a form of meditation.

  1. In 5-4-3-2-1 coping, you begin by thinking about five things that you can see around you. Listing them off out loud can help you with this exercise. Study them and describe them to yourself. Performing deep breathing (a slow inhale over 5 seconds, holding for 5 seconds, and exhaling over 5 seconds) can help with this as well.
  2. Next, describe 4 things that you can feel, such as your heart beating, your feet on the floor or your back in your chair.
  3. Next, 3 things that you can hear, like a television in another room, traffic outside or birds singing.
  4. After that, 2 things that you can smell – or two smells that make you happy, like fresh baked cookies.
  5. Finally, end with one thing you can taste. Your saliva, gum, or food you ate recently? Some people also substitute “One thing you like about yourself” for this exercise as well.
Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2017), "Coping with Flashbacks and Dissociation," retrieved on February 19, 2017 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/coping-flashbacks-dissociation/.
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Using the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG)

Introduction

The Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG; Quinsey, Harris, Rice, & Cormier, 2006) is a tool that can be used to estimate statistically the risk of recidivism. It is comprised of 12 items that are associated with a risk of re-offending and is completed with all available information. You can download the full VRAG in PDF format. The Sexual Offender Risk Appraisal Guide (SORAG) is reviewed in another article.

The VRAG is an actuarial risk assessment, involving a mathematical technique applied to determines what factors were present in offenders who later went on to commit violent crimes. (Brown & Singh, 2014) This approach eliminates the bias found in unstructured judgement.

The VRAG has been examined in over 40 studies, and has been found effective even with individuals who have a lower IQ. (Camilleri & Quinsey, 2011)

Completing the VRAG

The first step to completing the VRAG is to complete the Childhood & Adolescent Taxon Scale. Below, where a request for information relates to an “index offense” that is the one that led to the individual entering the Criminal Justice system

Childhood & Adolescent Taxon Scale (CATS) Worksheet

A post on the CATS has been scheduled on this blog for February 20. This scale includes 8 items that are scored from 0 to 1, based on the coding guidelines provided. These items are:

  1. Elementary School Maladjustment
  2. Teenage Alcohol Problem
  3. Childhood Aggression Rating
  4. More Than 3 DSM Conduct Disorder Symptoms
  5. Ever suspended or expelled from school
  6. Arrested under the age of 16
  7. Lived with both biological parents to age 16 (except for death of parents)

Conduct Disorder Symptoms

Next, the assessor will complete the list of Conduct Disorder symptoms, circling those that occurred before age 16 except for items 13 and 15 which are before aged 16:

  • 1. Often bullied, threatened or intimidated others
  • 2. Often initiated physical fights
  • 3. Used a weapon that could cause serious physical harm to others (e.g., a bat, brick, broken bottle, knife, gun)
  • 4. Was physically cruel to people
  • 5. Was physically cruel to animals
  • 6. Stolen while confronting a victim (e.g., mugging, purse snatching, extortion, robbery)
  • 7. Forced someone into sexual activity
  • 8. Deliberately engaged in fire setting with the intention of causing serious damage
  • 9. Deliberately destroyed others’ property (other than by fire setting)
  • 10. Broken into someone else’s house, car, or building
  • 11. Often lied to obtain goods or favors or to avoid obligations (i.e., “cons” others)
  • 12. Stolen items of nontrivial value without confronting a victim (like shoplifting, theft, or forgery)
  • 13. Before [age] 13, stayed out late at night, despite parental prohibitions
  • 14. Ran away from home overnight (or longer) at least twice while living in parental or parental surrogate home (or once without returning for a lengthy period)
  • 15. Before [age] 13, was often truant from school

Cormier-Lang Criminal History Scores for Non-Violent Offenses

This scoring form allows you to answer item number 5 below, the Criminal History Score for Non-Violent Offenses Prior to the Index Offense. This score is developed by counting the number of non-violent offenses and applying a weight to them. For instance, bank robbery is counted x7 while Indecent Exposure is counted x2. So an individual who has two instances of Indecent Exposure and 1 instance of Bank Robbery would have (2×2 = 4) + (1×7 = 7) = 4+7 = 11.

Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG) Items

Next are the 12 VRAG items. The tool provides detailed coding instructions for each of these:

  1. Lived with both biological parents to age 16 (except for death of parent):
  2. Elementary School Maladjustment:
  3. History of alcohol problems
  4. Marital status (at the time of or prior to index offense):
  5. Criminal history score for nonviolent offenses prior to the index offense
  6. Failure on prior conditional release (includes parole or probation violation or revocation, failure to comply, bail violation, and any new arrest while on conditional release):
  7. Age at index offense
  8. Victim Injury (for index offense; the most serious is scored):
  9. Any female victim (for index offense)
  10. Meets DSM criteria for any personality disorder (must be made by appropriately licensed or certified professional)
  11. Meets DSM criteria for schizophrenia (must be made by appropriately licensed or certified professional)
  12. a. Psychopathy Checklist score (if available, otherwise use item 12.b. CATS score)
  13. (Technically 12b) bCATS score (from the CATS worksheet)

Scoring the VRAG

Determining Risk

Risk categories are provided in the VRAG manual. They are approximated here although more detail is available in the complete manual. For each score, if an individual is close to the next score you should list them as a combination of the two. For instance an individual whose score is -10, -9 or -8 would be listed as Low-Medium rather than just Low.

  • -24 to -8 is Low Risk
  • -7 to +13 is Medium Risk
  • +14 to +32 is High Risk

Determining Rate of Recidivism

The risk of recidivism is presented below, from the same manual (pages 283-286):

Probability of Recidivism
VRAG score 7 years 10 years
< −22 0.00 0.08
−21 to −15 0.08 0.10
−14 to −8 0.12 0.24
−7 to −1 0.17 0.31
0 to +6 0.35 0.48
+7 to +13 0.44 0.58
+14 to +20 0.55 0.64
+21 to +27 0.76 0.82
> +28 1.00 1.00

This is to be interpreted as a percentage. For instance a score of -10 is in the -14 to -8 category; therefore an individual would have a 7 year recidivism rate of 12% and a 10 year recidivism rate of 24%.

References

American Psychological Association. (2006) Quinsey, V.L., Harris, G.T., Rice, M.E. & Cormier, C.A. (2006) 2nd Ed. Violent Offenders: Appraising and Managing Risk. Washington D.C: American Psychological Association.

Brown, J. & Singh, J.P. (2014) Forensic Risk Assessment: A Beginner’s Guide. Archives of Forensic Psychology. 1(1). 49-59. Retrieved on January 20, 2017 from http://www.archivesofforensicpsychology.com/web/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Brown-and-Singh1.pdf

Camilleri, J.A. & Quinsey, V.L. (2011) Appraising the risk of sexual and violent recidivism among intellectually disabled offenders. Psychology, Crime & Law. 17(1) 59-74

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2017), "Using the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG)," retrieved on February 19, 2017 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/using-violence-risk-appraisal-guide-vrag/.
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Level of Care Utilization System (LOCUS)

Introduction

The Level of Care Utilization System or LOCUS tool has been designed by the American Association of Community Psychiatrists (2009) to allow staff who work on inpatient hospital environments with patients with psychiatric problems (such as emergency departments, psychiatric sections of general hospitals or in psychiatric hospitals) to determine the level of care that an individual should receive.

The LOCUS provides for six levels, ranging from the least intense (recovery maintenance, such as seeing a case manager once a month and having access to a 24-hour crisis line if needed) to the most intense (medically managed residential services such as being a hospital inpatient.)

Parameters

The LOCUS is based on a set of parameters that an individual is scored along. The level of care is determined based on the mix of parameters that each client has. These parameters are:

  1. Risk of Harm
  2. Functional Status
  3. Medical, Addictive and Psychiatric Co-morbidity
  4. Recovery Environment
  5. Treatment and Recovery History
  6. Engagement and Recovery Status

In most of these domains there are a number of states that are used to code the domain. For instance, “Risk of Harm” has five potential states from Minimal Risk of Harm to Extreme Risk of Harm. The exception is 4. Recovery Environment which has two subcomponents, Level of Stress and Level of Support.

The LOCUS manual provides detailed coding instructions to allow an individual to be assessed in a reliable, repeatable way.

Levels of Care

For each Level of Care, the manual provides for four categories, Care Environment, Clinical Services, Supportive Systems, and Crisis Stabilization and Prevention Services.

Care Environment describes where services are delivered and what facilities might need to be available. Clinical Services describes the type and number of clinical employees (nurses, etc.) and the types of therapies or treatments available. Supportive Services includes client access to things like case management, outreach and financial support, while Prevention Services include mobile crisis, crisis lines, and other access to services.

Scoring

Each of the levels includes specific individual scores required for a level, and also a composite score. The Composite Score overrides the individual scores to determine which level an individual is placed at if the Composite Score results in a more intense level of care.

Composite Scores

  • Level 1 – 10-13
  • Level 2 – 14-16
  • Level 3 – 17-19
  • Level 4 – 20-22
  • Level 5 – 23 – 27
  • Level 6 – 28+

Level 1 – Recovery Maintenance and Health Management

  • Risk of Harm: 2 or less
  • Functional Status: 2 or less
  • Co-morbidity: 2 or less
  • Level of Stress: Sum of Stress and Support less than 4
  • Level of Support: Sum of Stress and Support less than 4
  • Treatment & Recovery History: 2 or less
  • Engagement & Recovery Status: 2 or less

Level 2 – Low Intensity Community Based Services

  • Risk of Harm: 2 or less
  • Functional Status: 2 or less
  • Co-morbidity: 2 or less
  • Level of Stress: Sum of Stress and Support less than 5
  • Level of Support: Sum of Stress and Support less than 5
  • Treatment & Recovery History: 2 or less
  • Engagement & Recovery Status: 2 or less

Level 3 – High Intensity Community Based Services

  • Risk of Harm: 3 or less
  • Functional Status: 3 or less
  • Co-morbidity: 3 or less
  • Level of Stress: Sum of Stress and Support less than 5
  • Level of Support: Sum of Stress and Support less than 5
  • Treatment & Recovery History: 3 or less
  • Engagement & Recovery Status: 3 or less

Level 4 – Medically Monitored Non-Residential Services

  • Risk of Harm: 3 or less
  • Functional Status: 3 or less
  • Co-morbidity: 3 or less
  • Level of Stress: 3 or 4
  • Level of Support: 3 or less
  • Treatment & Recovery History: 3 or 4
  • Engagement & Recovery Status: 3 or 4

Level 5 – Medically Monitored Residential Services

  • Risk of Harm: If the score is 4 or higher – the client is automatically Level 5
  • Functional Status: If the score is 4 or higher – most clients are automatically Level 5
  • Co-morbidity: If the score is 4 or higher – most clients are automatically Level 5
  • Level of Stress: 4 or more in combination with a rating of 3 or higher on Risk of Harm, Functional Status or Co-morbidity
  • Level of Support: 4 or more in combination with a rating of 3 or higher on Risk of Harm, Functional Status or Co-morbidity
  • Treatment & Recovery History: 3 or more in combination with a rating of 3 or higher on Risk of Harm, Functional Status or Co-morbidity
  • Engagement & Recovery Status: 3 or more in combination with a rating of 3 or higher on Risk of Harm, Functional Status or Co-morbidity

Level 6 – Medically Managed Residential Services

  • Risk of Harm: If the score is 5 or higher – the client is automatically Level 6
  • Functional Status: If the score is 5 or higher – the client is automatically Level 6
  • Co-morbidity: If the score is 5 or higher the client is automatically Level 6
  • Level of Stress: 4 or more
  • Level of Support: 4 or more
  • Treatment & Recovery History: 4 or more
  • Engagement & Recovery Status: 4 or more

Given that there are a number of nuances in the exact scoring it’s recommended that an individual read or receive structured training in administration of the LOCUS. The LOCUS manual also provides a decision tree (not shown) to assist in making your determinations and a determination grid (shown below.)

Level of Care Determination Grid

LOCUS Level of Care Determination Grid

Research

Although the LOCUS is widely used, research is surprisingly limited.

The initial study validating the LOCUS was Sowers, George & Thomson (1999). Their study examined scores on the LOCUS and correlated them to expert decisions to see if the LOCUS matched that decision-making; their results indicated that it performed well in this function.

Kimura, Yagi & Toshizumi (2013) reviewed the LOCUS by comparing scores on it to the Global Assessment Scale (GAS) scores, a similar tool and examining the change of scores from admission to discharge. They found it a sensitive and effective tool for clinical use in Japan.

Ontario Shores, a large mental hospital in Whitby, ON implements the LOCUS along with the RAI tools as well.

References

American Association of Community Psychiatrists. (2009) LOCUS Level of Care Utilization System for Psychiatric and Addictions Services, Adult Version 2010. Retrieved on January 18, 2017 from http://cchealth.org/mentalhealth/pdf/LOCUS.pdf

Kimura, T., Yagi, F., & Yoshizumi, A. (2013). Application of Level of Care Utilization System for Psychiatric and Addiction Services (LOCUS) to Psychiatric Practice in Japan: A Preliminary Assessment of Validity and Sensitivity to Change. Community Mental Health Journal, 49(4), 477-491. doi:10.1007/s10597-012-9562-6

Sowers, W., George, C., & Thomson, K. R. (1999). Level of care utilization system for psychiatric and addiction services (LOCUS): a preliminary assessment of reliability and validity. Community Mental Health Journal, (6), 545.

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2017), "Level of Care Utilization System (LOCUS)," retrieved on February 19, 2017 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/level-care-utilization-system-locus/.
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Language Learning for Social Service Workers

Introduction

An important part of cultural competency for social workers is the ability to speak a language understood by their clients. In the US and Canada there are significant populations of Spanish, French, and South Asian language speakers, and their ability to access social work support may be impaired by the lack of speakers of those languages.

The good news is that it’s not an insurmountable goal to learn a language, especially with new technologies. Many resources exist for free that help an individual learn their language of choice. Some people wonder about the time commitment, but luckily the US State Department has already answered this question.

The State Department operates the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), a language school for US Diplomats. Based on their extensive research and experience actually training complete beginners to speak a variety of languages, they’ve separated them into four categories. Each of these categories are listed below with some of the languages that fit into them:

Category I Language (languages closely related to English)

  • Danish
  • Dutch
  • French
  • Italian
  • Norwegian
  • Portuguese
  • Romanian
  • Spanish
  • Swedish

Category II Languages (languages similar to English)

  • German
  • Indonesian
  • Malay
  • Swahili

Category III Languages (languages moderately different from English)

  • Albanian
  • Amharic
  • Armenian
  • Azerbaijani
  • Bengali
  • Bulgarian
  • Burmese
  • Czech
  • Dari
  • Estonian
  • Farsi
  • Finnish
  • Georgian
  • Greek
  • Gujarati
  • Hausa
  • Hebrew
  • Hindi
  • Hungarian
  • Icelandic
  • Kazakh
  • Khmer
  • Kurdish
  • Lao
  • Latvian
  • Lithuanian
  • Macedonian
  • Mongolian
  • Nepali
  • Pashto
  • Polish
  • Russian
  • Serbo-Croatian
  • Sinhala
  • Slovak
  • Slovenian
  • Somali
  • Tagalog
  • Tajiki
  • Tamil
  • Telugu
  • Thai
  • Tibetan
  • Turkish
  • Ukrainian
  • Urdu
  • Uzbek
  • Vietnamese

Category IV Languages (languages significantly different from English)

  • Arabic
  • Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Japanese
  • Korean

For each of these categories the State Department prescribes how much time it will take for an English learner to reach a useful level of language knowledge. For Category I languages you must study for 600 hours, for Category II 750 hours, for Category III 900 hours and for Category IV 1100 hours. Of course, this may be an under-estimation because these individuals are in class for 30 hours a week, but it gives you a good idea.

Choose a Language

Choosing a language is a very personal choice, but there are a few things that might be able to help you decide: number of speakers (or number of speakers in your area), ease of accessing language material, career usefulness and closeness to your native language.

For individuals who choose a language based on number of speakers, here are the top 5:

  1. Chinese (Mandarin)
  2. Hindi
  3. Spanish
  4. English
  5. Arabic

Ease of accessing language material is hard to quantify but there are certainly many products available for the Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, etc.) as opposed to others.

Career usefulness can be looked at in terms of languages critical to US interests (just a few of the 60 languages listed:

  1. Arabic
  2. Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin)
  3. Hindi
  4. Indonesian
  5. Korean
  6. Russian
  7. Turkish

For those interested in using their language in their Social Work career, knowing the number of US speakers may be important:

  1. English
  2. Spanish
  3. Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin)
  4. French
  5. Tagalog

Measuring Fluency

If you had attended an FSI or DLI (Defense Language Institute – the military’s language school) course, you would be considered at a level useful enough to understand the language as spoken and to produce it yourself. But how do you know what that actually means, especially when compared to another individual? That’s where various proficiency tests and assessments come in.

Although I won’t go into detail about specific language-related tests (like the DELF tests for French), I will discuss two common standards, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and the Defense Language Proficiency Test.

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)

The CEFR is the worldwide standard for proficiency. It is grouped into 6 categories, A1, A2, B1, B2 and C1 and C2. A1 and A2 are beginner and low-intermediate levels of proficiency. B1 and B2 are considered intermediate users of the language who are independent, while C1 and C2 are advanced language learners. For each language you wish to take, there are CEFR assessments that match.

An FSI language course would place a learner at B1 at completion, enough to use the language independently, engage in conversations and understand the world around them.

Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT)

The DLPT is another proficiency test for languages. The reason that I list it, is that there are a lot of people using DLI language learning materials who might want to understand this test. After completing the DLPT, a learner is assessed a scale from 0-3, with 2/2 generally corresponding to B1, and 3/3 corresponding to C1. In each category, there are plus (+) options available to indicate a level of proficiency higher than the number.

Language Learning Resources

Language learning resources differ based on what language an individual is learning. Below are a few resources I’m familiar with a heavy influence towards French (the language I’m learning now), Spanish (a language I spent 3 years learning in high school) and Arabic (the next challenge I want to tackle.)

Duolingo

Available Languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Dutch, Swedish, Irish, Turkish, Danish, Norwegian, Polish, Esperanto, Hebrew, Ukranian, Vietnamese, Welsh (In Beta): Hungarian, Greek, Romanian (In Progress): Swahili, Czech, Hindi, Korean, Klingon, Indonesian

Price: Free

Description: Duolingo offers you a skills tree with all the information you need to reach approximately A2 (some people say B1) of your language, and learn about 2000 words in the process. It’s very intuitive and by working through the course you learn to translate between your native language and English while developing knowledge of vocabulary.

Pros: It’s simple and very fun. You get to see your progress and work your way to the end. You get a trophy when you finish!

Cons: The grammar instruction can be light in some areas which can be very confusing

Memrise

Available Languages: (Made by Memrise Team): English, Japanese, French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Korean, Italian, Russian

Price: Free

Description:  Memrise is like a flashcards program on steroids, but organized into courses. You do a lot of filling in the blanks or other exercises that teach you words and helps build your vocab.

Pros: Great audio narration accompanies the cards. There are courses for the most common languages that correspond to the CEFR Levels. For instance, French has 7 courses. French 1-3 correspond to A1, French 4-6 correspond to A2, and French 7 corresponds to B1.

Cons: There’s zero grammar instruction which means Memrise is not useable on its own. There’s also no indication on the number of words, and many of the smaller courses (not created by the Memrise team) are of varying quality.

Lingvist

Available Languages: French, German, Russian, Spanish

Price: Free

Description: Lingvist is a deceptively simple but very powerful program designed to build your vocabulary up to 5000 words. It uses an endless card interface that presents you with a “fill in the blank.” You can double click on the sentence or any word to get a translation to help you, and if you get it wrong you’ll get an opportunity to fill in the correct answer.

Pros: Never-ending interface allows you to go much longer before you get bored or tired. Beautiful interface. 5000 words beats Memrise and Duolingo

Cons: No grammar instruction similar to Memrise

GLOSS (Global Language Online Support System)

Available Languages: Albanian, Arabic (Egyptian, Gulf, Iraqi, Levantine, MSA, Sudanese, Yemeni), Azerbaijani, Balochi, Chinese (Mandarin), Croatian, Dari, Farsi, French,German, Greek, Hausa, Hebrew, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean (North and South), Kurmanji, Pashto, Portuguese (Brazilian and European), Punjabi, Russian, Serbian, Somali, Sorani, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Turkmen

Price: Free

Description: Created by the US military, GLOSS exercises are sorted into the 3/3 DLPT proficency areas and allow you to view real material in those languages and answer questions or complete exercises.

Pros: Lots of exercises available for lots of languages, native material means it’s very high quality

Cons: Not a language course per se

Headstart2

Available Languages: Amharic, Arabic (Egyptian, Iraqi, Levantine, MSA, Moroccan) Baluchi, Cebuano, Chavacano, Chinese (Mandarin), Dari, French, German, Hausi, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Kurmanji, Malay, Pashto, Persian-Farsi, Portguese (Brazilian, European), Russian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Tausug, Thai, Turkish, Turkmen, Urdu, Uzbek, Yemeni

Price: Free

Description: Brought to you by the Defense Language Institute, Headstart2 provides you with approximately 750 words, and basic grammar with the goal of getting you to 0+ (memorized proficiency) on the DLPT.

Pros: For languages like Hindi, Arabic and Pashto that don’t use the Latin alphabet, Headstart2 is a great teaching resource

Cons: Vocabulary is very military-focused (if you consider that a con.) Will need to move on to other courses quickly.

Peace Corps

Available Languages: Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Bambara, Bengali, Bulgarian, Chinese, French, Georgian, Hausa, Kyrgyz, Macedonian, Malagasy, Mongolian, Romanian, Moldovan, Russian, Siswati, Thai, Tswana, Turkmen, Ukrainian, Wolof

Price: Free

Description: The Peace Corps requires all individuals who deploy as volunteers to reach a certain level of language training. Although the Peace Corps uses a simple proficiency scale (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, with Low, Intermediate, High for each level.) Part of these training resources are available online.

Pros: Very audio-focused, with lots of survival phrases

Cons: Some languages have limited material; the accents can be challenging

Special Operations Language Training (SOLT)

Available Languages: IndonesianRussian, SerbianSpanishThai, many others (if active-duty military)

Price: Free

Description: Similar to the Peace Corps, members of the US Special Forces are required to reach a certain level of language proficiency (in their case 1/1 on the DLPT scale.) When completed in person, this 18 weeks (for Pashto) or 24 weeks (for Arabic); other languages are shorter.

Pros: Not a lot of “fluff”, courses get down to business quickly

Cons: Only a few courses are available online

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2017), "Language Learning for Social Service Workers," retrieved on February 19, 2017 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/language-learning-social-service-workers/.
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