JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Leticia Spehr easily recalls the frustrations she endured after arriving in the United States from her native Mexico and trying to earn her Missouri cosmetology license.
"It was very difficult to understand," Spehr said of the test she took 18 years ago. "I felt like I was going to be a doctor to learn all these technical terms in English."
Beginning June 1, the difficulty experienced by Spanish-speaking cosmetologists like Spehr will be a thing of the past.
The State Board of Cosmetology has announced that it will offer its licensure exams in Spanish as well as English in part because of the growing number of Hispanics in Missouri entering the field.
"With the increased number of people in Missouri whose primary language is Spanish, the board has seen an increased need to offer this exam in a language other than English," said Darla Fox, director of the State Board of Cosmetology. "We believe there is a real need for this service, and we are pleased to provide it."
Missouri's Hispanic population nearly doubled during the 1990s to 118,592, according to the 2000 Census. Hispanics now account for 2.1 percent of the state population.
Spehr, who works at The Captain's Quarters beauty salon in Columbia, said of the licensing board's decision: "I think this would be great for the state to have a Hispanic test."
State government has been increasingly responsive to the growing Hispanic population.
Last year, for example, Missouri enacted a law allowing insurance companies to provide policies and related documents in languages other than English. The effort originated with the Department of Insurance.
The Spanish test is a first for the Missouri Division of Professional Registration, which is part of the Department of Economic Development. The division licenses qualified professionals and enforces standards in areas ranging from cosmetology to accounting, medicine and engineering.
Cosmetology accounts for 20 percent of all licenses issued by the division, second only to nursing licenses at 30 percent. Cosmetology licenses cover hairdressing, cosmetics application, manicuring and other esthetics including tattooing.
The cosmetology test is given in Moberly and administered by a Maine company, D.L. Roope Administrations Inc.
Marilyn Williams, director of the Division of Professional Registration, said that while the practical portion of cosmetology training is not a problem for Hispanics, the written exam can be a chore.
The cost of the tests is not expected to increase because of the change. Williams said students will still be required to fill out license applications in English.
"What we have found is that even though the Hispanic students speak in English and do very well during the practical training, the written portion of the process gets a little confusing," Williams said. "I think we'll have a higher success rate of first-time passes with the change."
Williams said there are no immediate plans to expand the Spanish language requirements to other professional testing.