Tennessee: - Spurring growth by bridging the language gap

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Tue Dec 16 16:41:19 UTC 2008

- Spurring growth by bridging the language gap
By: William Williams, News Correspondent

Ann Gillespie does not mince words regarding her thoughts about Metro
Councilman Eric Crafton's English Only proposal up for a January
special vote. "With a state law already on the books and a cost of
$500,000 to taxpayers, the 'English Only' effort scores an 'A' in
political maneuvering and an 'F' in creating effective policy," said
Gillespie, chief executive officer and co-owner of ProLingua Inc. The
issue is significant to Gillespie, given that Nashville-based
ProLingua focuses on consulting in industries susceptible to language
barrier concerns and, in the process, minimizing clients' operational
costs. But the Illinois native and Vanderbilt University graduate said
she is optimistic Davidson County voters collectively will demonstrate
a progressive bent in the voting booth.

"I do not foresee a Nashville community that would stand by and allow
immigrant neighbors struggling with English to be denied help because
they couldn't learn the language at the snap of the councilman's
fingers," she said. With a degree in Latin-American studies and a
career background focused on immigrant labor issues, Gillespie
represents in many ways the new face of Nashville's white-collar
workforce: multilingual, global-economy savvy and not native to Music
City. While at Vanderbilt, she spent six months in Brazil teaching
English and learning Portuguese as part of an exchange program.

Because Davidson County, with an estimated population of 600,000, is
home to what some officials believe up to 100,000 residents who are
foreign-born or first-generation Americans, there is considerable work
for Gillespie and ProLingua as well as like-minded companies. "Our
niche is helping companies that are, for perhaps the first time,
addressing language and cultural barriers that are hampering growth,"
said Gillespie, who teamed in 2001 to form the company with Ellen
O'Bryant, who is still a co-owner. "Our consulting approach is fairly
unique, but there are other great professionals in the industry whose
services overlap ours."

For example, Gillespie said ProLingua has worked with Tom Sutula of
Atlanta-based Workplace Spanish Inc. and Tina White, who co-authored
with her husband Ed The Lingo Guide for Builders. Gillespie, who
oversees three full-time employees and works with 20 subcontractors,
said there are "several milestones" companies focused on diversity
issues must reach. "After recruiting, talent management is the
toughest challenge companies face," she said. "The most successful
managers are true servant leaders. Then there are those who get
stumped by language and cultural differences. Couple that with the
urgency of the work at hand and you get frustrated managers who see
the obstacles but not the opportunities."

ProLingua focuses on the construction, manufacturing,
service/hospitality and retail sectors. Although it mostly tackles
conventional issues for majority-owned companies dealing with
immigrant labor, ProLingua at times communicates with immigrant-owned
companies wanting either to hire whites or work with white-owned
contractors and vendors. "There are a number of established,
multicultural business professionals and business owners who have long
overcome the difficulties of acculturating to the American workplace,"
she said. "Sometimes they blend so well with the mainstream, that we
don't recognize them as immigrants."

However — and especially in the construction industry —
less-integrated immigrant business owners sometimes need assistance,
Gillespie said, despite efforts by many general contractors to promote
supplier diversity. "There is a great opportunity for the two to come
together," Gillespie noted. "The problem is the gap between the
expectation of the GC and the capacity of the small business. Closing
that gap is a challenge to the entire construction industry."


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