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Disaster Management – The Importance of Language

by Annique Bolliger

In a disaster situation, the importance of language is ever-present. Speaking multiple languages is essential in this career, as it opens the doors to effective communication.

Disaster Management is about knowing how to prevent and respond to disasters such as fires, floods, and other stressful situations like a human stampede, or protests that get out of control.

It’s an intense career field that comes with great responsibility. More often than not, working in this area means you have people’s lives in your hands.  As you can imagine, doing this as a career means you need to get properly trained and prepped.

One of the most important elements in the preparation for a disaster situation is knowing how to communicate.

Disaster Management – A Formal Qualification in South Africa

If you want to work in Disaster Management, one of the best ways you can prepare yourself before heading out into the field is by pursuing a formal qualification. As with most of these things, formal education is by no means a substitute for experience, but it will provide you with an extremely in-depth set of skills, as well as detailed knowledge on a wide variety of disaster situations.

In South Africa, one of the most reputable schools for this field of study is Stenden South Africa. The international institution offers an intense and all-encompassing 4-year degree in Disaster Management. In our article titled Changing our Crises with a BBA in Disaster Management you can find out more about what to expect from this NQF Level 8 qualification.

Why Languages are so Important

One of the aspects that Stenden emphasises in its Disaster Management degree is the importance of speaking multiple languages.

Language is a key tool for communication, and when you are in a stressful situation, you need to be able to communicate the plan of action in the language that the people will understand. Needless to say, there is no time for confusing hand gestures or checking your pocket dictionary when you are trying to save someone from a fire or flood.

“Communication regarding Disaster Management means being able to understand another individual’s view point about a specific topic. It’s about being able to understand each other and be on the same page. This is very important to make fast and proper decisions about how to respond to a disaster.”

– Ross Agiotis, 3rd Year student in Disaster Management

At Stenden South Africa, it’s compulsory for 1st and 2nd Year students to focus on

  • English Communication
  • Spanish
  • French

Requirements to study DM a Stenden SA

You can click here to see the admission policies along with all the entrance requirements you need.

The following Berlitz advertisement makes it pretty clear why someone in disaster management should have basic and multilingual communication skills. This German coast guard is definitely not the kind of person you want in charge of a crisis situation!

Students Testify: Multiple Languages Are Essential

19-year old Jessica van Schalkwyk, is a 2nd Year DM student. She is thinking of doing her internship abroad and feels that French and Spanish would be most beneficial to her.

“It’s so important to learn different languages, and the most important part is for communication.  If you are able to speak a number of languages, people view you in a much better light and respect you for going the extra mile to learn and understand their way of communicating.”

Lee-Anne Joubert is in her 3rd Year at Stenden. The 20-year student from the Eastern Cape says,

“In learning different languages, you start to learn about the culture of the people, and not just the language itself.  This means that you would know how certain people react to certain situations, which is a very important part in assisting people in distress and in Disaster Management.”

Aminath Rushdy started working in Disaster Management back in her home, the Maldives. She has enjoyed it so much that she decided to formalise her knowledge by enrolling for a DM degree. 

“You get to know people’s characters when you are able to understand them. You are also able to communicate with distressed people affected by disasters. Different languages also allow you to be able to communicate with various authorities that deal with disasters and disaster projects. 

Being able to speak different languages creates opportunities in the field of Disaster Management, since you’re not restricted to one country or one organisation.”

Since South Africa is such a multilingual nation, many people who live here already know how to communicate effectively in more than one language. If you are in this privileged boat, you probably know how useful this is. Now, imagine adding Spanish and French to your list – it would open career doors to you in hundreds of international cities that need skilled Disaster Management forces.

Insight from a 3rd Year DM Student – a Q&A with Ross

Ross Agiotis is a young man from Harare, Zimbabwe, who has a passion for languages and making a difference in people’s lives. He started his studies at Stenden South Africa in 2014 and is now in his final year.

In a Q&A with EduConnect, Ross gives some awesome insight into the Disaster Management degree.

Why did you decide to study Disaster Management?
“It looked like a very interesting degree which allowed for travelling across the world, because there will always be a disaster of some sort, somewhere. I especially liked the idea of helping vulnerable people who have been affected by disasters.

Also, I liked the fact that it incorporates Geography and Business Studies, which were school subjects I enjoyed.”

Is there a kind of disaster that you would like to specialise in?
“I wouldn’t say there is a specific one, but possibly something more along the lines of Climate Change or Food Security although I have still not decided on that 100%.”

What has your experience at Stenden South Africa been like?
 “Stenden has been the most amazing experience of my life. What I love most about the institution is the fact that we are all like a family. Since we are such a small campus everyone knows each other – hence we are a close-knit community. I can definitely agree with the take that you have the time of your life at university.”

What do you enjoy most and least about your studies?
“What I enjoy most about my studies is the practical approach to the degree and the fact that it is not all academics. We are exposed to the field so that we have practical knowledge of the ‘real world.’ Even as students, we’ve already rubbed shoulders with various role players in the field of Disaster Management such as the Police, Army, Weather Services, and Sea Rescue etc.

What I enjoy least is that in 3rd Year, we only attend lectures for 20% of the time. The rest is self-study. We do get a lot of reports that keep us busy, but I’d prefer to have more class time.”

Can you tell me about your role in the SRC?
“In 2015 I applied to be in a leadership position, because apart from being passionate about Disaster Management, I wanted to be a representative and a voice for all Disaster Management students.  I’m now the current Head of Safety and Security and am responsible for carrying out supervised fire drills. One of my responsibilities is assisting the Facilities Manager with safety and security on campus.

Together with my fellow 3rd Year DM students, I’ve also been involved with creating an Emergency Operation Plan (EOP) for Stenden South Africa.”

disaster management stenden studentsTell me about the importance of knowing multiple languages in this career?
“It is important to know multiple languages so that if one day, as Disaster Managers, we decide to travel to a French or Spanish speaking country, for example, we will understand the basics and be able to communicate.”

Is it tricky to learn 2 Latin-based languages at the same time?
“Personally I didn’t find it tricky, because I had previously studied French up to A Levels (Cambridge system), so I was at an advantage and able to speak and understand it almost fluently.

Spanish is actually an easier language to learn than French, in my opinion.  And since the two languages are taught in separate modules, it’s not too tricky.”

Do you think you’ll definitely need Spanish and French in the future?
“I think that I will use both languages in the future, because I would love to travel and experience different countries and cultures.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the languages are taught at a very basic level and don’t equip you on a level that is considered fluent. The idea is for students to grasp “the basics,” which is the most important thing in a stressful situation.”

What are your plans for after graduating from Stenden?
“I would love to work in Australia for an NGO, although I’ve not decided exactly on what I’d like to do. I do however want to further my studies and get a Masters.”

What kind of person is suitable in this career?
“I would say someone who knows what they want, is calm and collected (you can’t panic in a disaster situation), and someone who is interested in Humanitarian work in general.”

Do you have any other advice for prospective students?
“My advice would be to definitely apply to do Disaster Management at Stenden South Africa as it is such a unique and exciting degree that can open so many different doors. I love my degree and can recommend it to anyone wanting to pursue an interesting career that keeps you on your toes.”

You can’t go wrong by learning multiple languages. The more languages you can speak, the greater your ability will be to communicate with a very broad spectrum of cultures and communities. If ever it’s important for this skill to be present, it’s a situation where your understanding and ability to communicate can be a matter of life and death.

EduConnect 2cents

The world is in dire need for continuous Disaster Management – alone the Climate Change has increased the natural disasters on our planet… draughts, tsunamis, hurricanes. If you feel passionate about the environment and nature, and have a knack for language and communication, this could very likely tickle your fancy

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