November 17, 2002 - Marion Star: Colombia RPCV Richard George teaches Spanish for the workplace

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Colombia RPCV Richard George teaches Spanish for the workplace

Read and comment on this story from the Marion Star on Colombia RPCV Richard George who teaches a program for those wishing to learn how to speak Spanish in their workplace. Read the story at:

¿No entiendo? No mas*

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¿No entiendo? No mas

The Marion Star
Bill Sinden

Instructor Richard George goes over a handout during a program for those wishing to learn how to speak Spanish in their workplace. The Spanish program was the first in a series of different Learning Lunch programs offered through Tri-Rivers Center for Adult Education.

Bill Sinden

Those attending the first in a series of Learning Lunch programs held at Tri-Rivers Tuesday learned about speaking Spanish in the workplace.

Como se dice ...? No entiendo. Mas despacio.

Businesses and employees in Marion increasingly are finding the need to understand such conversational Spanish as the hispanic population continues to grow.

U.S. Census Bureau figures show the number of hispanic residents in Marion County has increased from 485, or 0.75 percent of the population in 1990, to 723, or 1.1 percent of the population in 2000. That's an increase of 49 percent, more than any other race or ethnic group during the time period.

Tonya Rice, a claims representative for Verne Hart Insurance, on Tuesday attended Tri-Rivers Center for Adult Education's first Learning Lunch program.

Richard George, who teaches classes in conversational Spanish in the adult education program, introduced eight participants to the Spanish alphabet, common questions and words and phrases commonly used in the workplace.

He told them how to say in Spanish "How do you say ...?" "I don't understand" and "More slowly." He said, "Como se dice ...?" Together, the students said, "Como se dice ...?" He said, "No entiendo." They said, "No entiendo." He said, "Mas despacio." They said, "Mas despacio."

"Muy bien," he said, complimenting their efforts.

Assigned by her employer to attend the session, Rice said she gained assistance in communicating with customers who speak only Spanish; "some of the things that they told us today that you can use to at least try to speak to them when they come in."

Tom Johnston, vice president for Verne Hart, said the insurance agency sent Rice because it wants to support Tri-Rivers Learning Lunch program and to meet the needs of a growing segment of its customer base.

"It seems like we insure a lot of those folks and often have difficulty communicating," Johnston said. "We don't want to find ourselves not being able to communicate. We thought it might be beneficial to pick up a few key words."

Often, Spanish-speaking customers will be accompanied by someone who can interpret for them, but within the last eight months or so the business decided to try to improve its Spanish-speaking skills. He said the agency may enroll an employee in workplace Spanish classes that Tri-Rivers will offer in January and February.

H&R Block did not send a representative, but is exploring the possibility that Tri-Rivers Center for Adult Education might customize a Spanish class for its employees.

"There's a lot of Spanish-speaking people in this community, and I think it's growing every day," said Steve Rhoades, owner of the H&R Block franchise, 613 E. Center St., since 1985. "You can't offer client service if you can't communicate."

He said H&R Block sites in bigger cities such as Columbus provide customers with company literature in Spanish.

"So far we haven't gone to that extreme, but if we can get somebody to communicate with them we'll probably get the literature to go along with it."

He wants his staff "to learn enough to communicate and ask the right questions. Everybody had Spanish in high school, but for most of them that's too long ago."

Ellen Wilkerson, ONGPT coordinator for Tri-Rivers Career Center, attended the session because she would like to work with Spanish-speaking people when she retires.

"I see it as a way of helping me become a little bit more educated in the language," Wilkerson said. "I think Americans are backward when it comes to (learning) other languages."

George, who took "a lot" of Spanish in college and learned more working with the Peace Corps in Colombia, said Tri-Rivers decided to offer the class because of the growing hispanic population. He said the school has discussed customized Spanish courses for some businesses.

"I do think the needs are out there," he said.

Chris Renwick, an instructor in maintenance mechanics at Tri-Rivers who lived in Spain while in the military, expects speaking Spanish to become a necessity.

"I think it's going to be a survival thing if not in five years, 10 years max."

He said educators should not allow language differences to be an obstacle to teaching students who otherwise would be capable of learning a skill.

"Yes, they can do the work, but if I can't communicate with them that's a different problem."

Before George began instructing his lunchtime students he offered some advice: "The most important thing to remember in learning Spanish is 'Don't be afraid to try.'"

Originally published Sunday, November 17, 2002

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