Sometimes I think that, at heart, I'm a sociologist as well as a psychologist. Even though my own research has focused primarily on theory-based investigations relying on relatively small numbers of college students as participants, I've always enjoyed reading reports of large-n studies, particularly those involving very large numbers of respondents. Thus, it's not all that surprising that I spend a fair amount of time reading U.S. census reports, the ones based on the population survey conducted every ten years as well as those summarizing other sets of statistical data. Some Census Bureau reports paint the most current, up-to-date demographic picture available, while other reports provide predictions of future changes.
So let's compare some Census Bureau figures. According to a report by Cheeseman (1996), in 1990 non-Hispanic Whites constituted 75.6 percent of the U.S. population. Population figures for non-Hispanic American Indians were .7 percent, non-Hispanic Asians 2.8 percent, and non-Hispanic Blacks 11.8 percent. Those of Hispanic origin, regardless of race, were 9 percent of the population. By 2050, this demographic configuration is projected to change substantially. Cheeseman's estimates indicate that non-Hispanic Whites will comprise 52.8 percent of the U.S. population. The projected figures for other non-Hispanic groups are: .9 percent for American Indians, 8.2 percent for Asians, and 13.6 percent for Blacks. Those of Hispanic origin, regardless of race, were projected to be 24.5 percent of the U.S. population. Similar trends were also indicated in a 2004 U.S. Census Bureau report.
Clearly, the population of the United States will be more diverse in the future than it has been in the past and is today. Like most major societal changes, this development will offer some significant opportunities. As a lifelong monolingual (despite valiant efforts by many fine teachers to expand my linguistic competencies), I am hopeful that linguistic diversity will flourish and encourage much greater interest in and commitment to learning a second or third language. I can already see some progress among my undergraduate students who increasingly want to complete their education in a second language by living in a country that uses the language they've studied. By a wide margin, their language of choice is Spanish. It seems possible that after studying and, to some extent, living in at least one additional language, today's college graduates will make a concerted effort to retain their full range of language skills and, thereby, become truly bilingual or multilingual.
But how do these linguistic issues affect psychology? I believe that there are several very important ways in which language plays a major role in both the present and the future of psychology. The current challenge in the United States is to provide adequate psychological services in languages other than English. Often, there are no easy ways to meet this challenge, particularly for languages that are relatively uncommon in a given geographic location. However, APA can help address this issue by encouraging doctoral and internship programs to value and support bi/multi-lingual students so that they can use their linguistic skills in delivering psychological services.
Moreover, it is crucial for APA to state clearly that use of the appropriate language(s) in providing services is fully consistent with and, indeed, required by evidence-based practice, which is defined by APA policy as "the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture, and preferences." By any measure, language encompasses all three of these contextual variables. Language is a crucial patient characteristic (as language, cognition, and emotion are closely interwoven), a cultural variable of vast significance, and a preference for those who speak more than one.
Language and culture also affect psychological science. Indeed, international psychological science might be considered a set of culture-specific dialects based on a cross-cultural common core of fundamental psychological processes. In any case, we need much more cross-cultural psychological research to map out the similarities and differences in psychological processes. Such an endeavor will also require exceedingly careful translations to sort out linguistic differences from psychological ones.
As for APA, it has made a most important step forward. In March, a new Spanish-language Web site (www.centrodeapoyoAPA.org) was launched to provide information about a wide range of topics emphasized in APA's public education campaign. The entire site, from articles to ordering brochures, is in Spanish. This site is a major step forward in APA's continuing efforts to serve the U.S. population. In addition, this site will increase access worldwide. Truly, there is no warmer welcome than to speak the same language.
Day, Jennifer Cheeseman. Population projections of the United States by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: 1995 - 2050, U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, P-25-1130, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1996. http://www.census.gov/prod/1/pop/p25-1130/p251130.pdf
APA Presidential Task Force on Evidence-Based Practice. (2006). Evidence-based practice in psychology. American Psychologist, 61, 271-285.
U.S. Census Bureau, 2004, "U.S. Interim Projections by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin," http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/usinterimproj/. Internet Release Date: March 18, 2004