Making Spanish Work

Michelle Buehring offers advice on instituting a workplace Spanish program

A direct outgrowth of diversity training in the workplace, the desire to learn Spanish for work is slowly finding its way into the corporate psyche. The benefits of workplace Spanish seem to be well worth the effort since efficient communication on the job is critical with Spanish-speaking employees or clients who have difficulty communicating in English.

Of course, workplace English classes help bridge the communication gap tremendously, too, and many businesses are choosing to incorporate English language instruction on the job. However, far less examination of language training has been placed at the other end of the communication spectrum: learning Spanish to communicate back.

The benefits are surprising, starting with the sense of camaraderie that is fostered when employees learning Spanish finally realize how difficult it must be for their fellow English learners. Employees are suddenly less frustrated by the extra time it takes a company employee to explain something. In addition, employees learning Spanish begin to develop a new sense of excitement and curiosity towards their Spanish-speaking co-workers. The sense of fear or disengagement when communicating with employees who don’t speak English very well is no longer.

For company employees learning Spanish, a heightened affinity for understanding another’s culture also begins to emerge. In fact, a whole new feeling of confidence, teamwork and trust begins to develop among workers — a great asset for any company looking to increase work quality and worker productivity.

So what’s the best way to start conducting Spanish classes at your workplace?
First, get an interested group of employees together. Set up a time — twice a week is recommended; lunchtime seems extremely conducive to avoid interfering with everyone’s work schedule. Find an instructor or staff trainer to lead the class. Lastly, use a Spanish textbook written specifically for the workplace — preferably not one that asks you to memorize sentences in the hope that those will be the exact sentences you need. Instead, find a textbook that approaches learning from a second/foreign language point of view; one that allows you to create your own sentences based on helpful vocabulary and minimal grammar hints.

Which Workplace Spanish Program is Best?
Along with this rising interest in workplace Spanish come several options to contemplate for the type of training program that best suits your company.

A training provider is probably the most well-known option for businesses seeking customized, on-site training in Spanish. These companies offer a wide range of job-specific training (Spanish for Law Enforcement, Spanish for Tax Preparers, and Medical Spanish). However popular, these courses can be quite costly. Not only that, many offer instruction based on the drill method, or memorization of sample sentences. If this is the case, recommendations are to look for a training company that offers a basic Spanish course, specifically for the workplace, with well-rounded language basics in terms of useful grammar, pertinent vocabulary, and contextual conversation practice. Only a communicative course will allow employees to generate their own sentences in Spanish for any given scenario in which they may have to communicate.

A somewhat less familiar, but perhaps more practical, option for workplace Spanish training is the local community college. Most community colleges offer customized training in all sorts of subjects, and their prices are generally lower than private training providers and consultants. The college contracts a campus instructor who will hold classes at your company site. Envision a company in the community contracting with a community college. “Community helping community.” It’s an inspiring match. For a workplace Spanish course, the college instructor should be able to adapt language basics, vocabulary, and contextual scenarios to the specific needs of your business. Again, those rote sentences will not leave you with enough grasp of the language to continue speaking in Spanish when the lessons are over. So be sure the course offers well-rounded material for real and continuous communication to take place. With your specific needs and time frame, you can contact Workforce Development, the division that specifically deals with customized training for businesses in the community. Colleges may also list training under Contract Education or Corporate Training.

Probably the least utilized and least costly option for Spanish training in the workplace is right in your own backyard. If your company has a staff trainer who is bilingual or fluent in Spanish, she probably already serves as a tremendous in-house resource for the kinds of communication situations managers and supervisors experience on the job with Spanish-speaking employees or clients. Needless to say, such a staff trainer may require specific training to teach language but the cost of developing one trainer is dramatically lower than the previous options. Furthermore, because the trainer is also an employee, she is an immediate fit to the company’s philosophy and framework. If no existing employees fit the bill, consider hiring an experienced teacher whose classroom experience will bring a wealth of skills to your operation. With a good workplace Spanish program that includes a teacher’s guide, a company can save a sizeable amount of money with “in-house instructor” training and reap the course benefits, too.

Whichever option your company chooses, learning Spanish in the workplace has been proven to encourage better communication among employees, advance teamwork and trust, all of which strengthen company profitability. It is a great return on investment for all who participate.

Michelle Buehring is a veteran ESL teacher of over 30 years, presently teaching at and writing curriculum for the Foreign Language Training Center in Ft. Lewis, Washington. She is also the author of two ESL textbooks (A Different Angle and The Talking Edge, JAG Publications) and a workplace Spanish text (Work into Spanish, Work into Spanish Publications).