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Associated Press Newswires

Iowans Who Learn Spanish Say It Helps Their Businesses


June 24, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Associated Press Newswires. All rights reserved.

 MASON CITY, Iowa (AP) - Habla espanol?

Some North Iowans are learning to do just that through North Iowa Area Community College's Occupational Spanish classes so they can communicate better with their Hispanic employees and customers.

NIACC began offering the classes in the fall of 2001.

"I think there's a definite need," said Bill Burdick, management and professional development coordinator at the college.

In some cases, such as medical emergencies, Burdick said the ability to communicate can make a difference between life and death.

Hopefully Hispanic people will be encouraged to learn English when they see their employers learning to speak Spanish, Burdick said.

The Occupational Spanish courses allow people to learn to speak the language in business situations in 16 hours. No previous experience with Spanish is required. The instructors teach phrases commonly used in business situations rather than grammar or syntax.

Classes are geared toward different occupational areas. The program includes modules for law enforcement, medicine, retail sales, construction and manufacturing.

The vocabulary taught in each class depends on the occupation the participants are in. Those in manufacturing learn safety terms, while receptionists in medical or dental offices learn how to make appointments and ask about insurance in Spanish.

Eric Wagner, a dentist who has offices in Sheffield and Hampton, said he took the class because a fair number of his patients speak Spanish.

"They really appreciate it if you know how to speak it a little," he said.

Wagner noted most of his Hispanic patients can speak a little English, so between his Spanish and their English they manage to communicate pretty well.

Wagner spent three years in Puerto Rico when he was in the military, but he said he didn't do a very good job of learning Spanish while he was there. The Occupational Spanish class "gave me a little bit more vocabulary," he said.

The Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico also differs somewhat from the Spanish spoken by people from Mexico, which is where most of Wagner's Hispanic patients are from.

Cerro Gordo County Jail Administrator Shad Stoeffler and 10 Cerro Gordo County correctional officers took an Occupational Spanish course through NIACC.

Stoeffler said the officers received a "cheat sheet" - a list of questions used during the booking process and their Spanish translation, as well as the Spanish responses given to the questions and their English translation.

All the Spanish words are written phonetically.

Stoeffler said the sheriff's office still calls on interpreters to communicate with Spanish-speaking people, but now at least they are not needed to book prisoners into the jail.

Fifteen to 20 supervisors, managers and human resources personnel at Fleetguard in Lake Mills took an Occupational Spanish course recently. Rosanne Larson, human resources associate at Fleetguard, said just seeing how difficult it is to learn another language has been an eye-opening experience for everyone who took the class.

Even though the supervisors may not be fluent in Spanish, just making the effort to speak it has broken down barriers between them and the Hispanic employees, according to Larson.

"They (the supervisors) will murder the Spanish and they (the Hispanic employees) will murder the English and they both have a good laugh," she said.

Larson noted that morale has increased among Spanish-speaking employees.

"When you say 'good job' in Spanish, their eyes just light up," she said.

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