Occupational Spanish focuses on limited words, phrases

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Fri Mar 10 12:42:00 UTC 2006

>>From the Philadelphia Enquirer,  Posted on Thu, Mar. 09, 2006

Getting work done takes a little trabajo
Occupational Spanish focuses on limited words, phrases.

By Adam Fifield
Inquirer Staff Writer

The teacher paced the room, holding up a card with the words "You're
welcome" scrawled in black marker.

"Anybody?" she challenged. "Anybody? Who knows it?"

"De nada?" a student slouching in the corner offered tentatively.

"Very good," the teacher said. "Muy bien!"

A minute later, the talk was of landscaping.

"Trim the shrubs." "Recorte los arbustos."

"Pick up the clippings." "Recoja los recortes."

And then, employment issues - Trump-style.

"You're fired!" "Est despedido!"

Nine mostly middle-aged pupils have traveled to Newtown for the evening
Spanish class at Bucks County Community College. But they have no
intention of becoming fluent. With spring less than two weeks away, these
lawn-care company bosses merely want to learn enough to direct simple
instructions and questions to the Mexican and Central American employees
who have become essential to their business.

"Occupational Spanish," which focuses on a narrow set of job-specific
phrases and a few pleasantries, represents a burgeoning segment of
language education in the United States, where almost seven million
Spanish-speaking adults have little or no command of English, according to
the 2000 U.S. Census. If illegal immigrants are included, no one knows
what the actual number is. Although some worry that such courses can
create over-confidence among police, health-care providers and others
whose failure to understand linguistic nuances could have dire
consequences, they are being tailored to an ever-wider array of fields.

"Anywhere you're liable to find a momentary interface between a Spanish
speaker and a non-Spanish speaker, we attempt to fill that void," said Sam
Slick, founder of Command Spanish Inc., one of the nation's leading
providers of occupational Spanish programs. "Most all of our students know
no more than 50 magic commands, statements and questions in Spanish to get
the job done," said Slick, whose Petal, Miss., firm has developed
micro-focused curricula in more than four dozen occupational areas.

If enough students request it, Bucks County Community College is prepared
to offer Command Spanish for paramedics, child-care providers, and school
administrators, among others. Some pupils learn to speak to their staffs,
others to speak to their clients. Command Spanish for health-care workers
is taught at Atlantic Cape Community College in Atlantic City and will
begin March 20 at Cumberland County College in Vineland. A class in
manufacturing Spanish, developed by another company, Workplace Spanish, is
run at Camden County College.

Other courses, such as survival Spanish for those employed in law
enforcement, the court system, banking, restaurants, hotels, data
collection, sales, and construction, are scheduled - privately and at
community colleges around the country - as demand warrants. Instruction
generally runs eight to 24 hours and costs between $100 and $200. No
previous knowledge of Spanish is required. And there's no pesky grammar:
Students learn by repetition and role-playing. ("We don't conjugate,"
promises Command's Web site.) In most Command courses, instructors also
provide cultural insights to reduce misunderstandings and improve
worker-employer relationships.

Andrew Norelli, owner of Andrew's Lawn Ranger, a landscaping firm in
Holland, Bucks County, said he had resorted to pantomime to communicate
with some of his Guatemalan workers. "You just point," he said. "It's
charades, that's what it is." He and his mother, Susan, who helps run the
business, enrolled in the "Spanish for Nurseries, Landscaping and Grounds
Keeping" class at BCCC. In addition to improving efficiency on the job
site, Susan Norelli said, she wanted to show her employees some good will.

"They work so hard," she said. "They really try so hard to please. So why
shouldn't we learn a little of their language?" Falls District Judge Jan
Vislosky, who studied Spanish for six years in school, took a class at
BCCC to learn legal terms. "Thanks to this class, I have the words to say,
'You can post bail,' "  said Vislosky, who presides over late-night court
appearances in a county where the Latino population numbered 13,820 in
2000, up 62 percent from 1990, according to the U.S. Census.

For hearings or complicated matters, the court would summon an interpreter
or use a phone interpretation service, Vislosky said. An increasing number
of Spanish-speaking patients has fueled requests for occupational Spanish
for nurses and other health-care professionals in the Atlantic City area,
said Esther Gandica, coordinator of customized training at Atlantic Cape
Community College. "We find there is a big need in clinics," she said.
When it comes to potential life-and-death scenarios in medicine or law
enforcement, reliance on survival Spanish may lead to a false sense of
confidence, warned Paul Uyehara, staff attorney with the language-access
project at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.

"It's just asking to make mistakes," Uyehara said. "It's extremely
dangerous to think you can do anything serious in a second language you
don't know." In emergencies, police trained in occupational Spanish may
have no recourse but to use it, he said. But the classes should be part of
comprehensive policy of language services, including certified
interpreters, Uyehara said. "This program is getting your foot in the
door," said Jonathan Ramos, president of the Philadelphia-based Spanish
American Law Enforcement Association, whose members include more than 200
police officers. "Once you're in, you've got to do a whole lot better."

Since 2004, when the U.S. Justice Department found fault with the way
Philadelphia police serve those with limited English proficiency, the
department has drafted an 11-page directive stipulating when interpreters
and translation services are to be used, among other things. The
department was unable to provide information about whether the directive
would include occupational Spanish training. Slick said students in
Command Spanish's law enforcement program are taught to know their
limitations and when to call in a professional interpreter. "You can do
some routine things very, very well, and they cannot only save your life,
but a citizen's life," he said. "But never think for a minute that you can
delve into more involved interactions and processes."

To Latino immigrants with little grasp of English, hearing their native
language - even a few phrases - is calming, said Felicita Feliciano,
coordinator of the city's Latino Partnership, a community organization
that helps Latinos fight poverty and addiction to alcohol and drugs. "If
you come to me saying ... permiso or cuidado, senora" - Spanish for excuse
me and be careful, ma'am - "I can say, 'Hey, he's going to treat me as a
human being first.' I probably won't be as hesitant," Feliciano said.
Survival Spanish programs, while limited, can sensitize English-speakers
to other cultures, said Ricardo Diaz, a consultant who helps integrate
Latinos in the workplace and has taught Spanish to members of District
1199C, a city health-workers' union. "You may not be learning a lot of
language," said Diaz, "but you're creating an environment for better

 2006 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources.

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