Experts give tips on helping Spanish-speaking workers
Presentation includes lessons in culture, history and language
June 29, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Dave Slade has been asked what the difference is between a Hispanic and a Mexican. Sometimes, it’s a joke. Other times, it’s not.
Slade explained the difference Friday morning at the Hispanic Cultural Awareness presentation put on by the High Country Human Resources Association and sponsored by Integrated Community. Hispanic, he said, is a term the U.S. government invented in the 1970s to give a name to all Spanish speakers. A Mexican is someone from Mexico.
Slade is founder and president of Lanza Language, a Colorado company that provides training and services to companies with Spanish-speaking employees.
He spoke to about 15 people Friday at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, explaining common elements of Latino culture, providing history lessons and statistics, and teaching some language. The goal was to help managers understand and communicate better with their Spanish-speaking workers.
In Mexico, Slade explained, the minimum wage is the equivalent of $4.10 a day. It’s understandable that Mexicans would want to work in a place where the minimum is $5.85 an hour, Slade said.
“I ask people to put themselves into their employees’ shoes,” he said. “Imagine for a second that the U.S. wage is $4 a day, and it’s almost $6 an hour there. What kind of job would you get?”
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The conversation occasionally intensified. One participant asked whether it should be the manager’s responsibility to learn Spanish instead of the employee’s responsibility to learn English.
“It’s the company’s responsibility to manage that person and to say I’m not going to hire people I can’t manage effectively,” Slade said.
Sometimes, that’s impossible because of worker shortages, he said. He also acknowledged that companies sometimes overlook language barriers to get good employees. In an ideal situation, a U.S. worker would speak English, Slade said.
However, companies can go a long way with a little bit of effort, he said. Employers should print materials in Spanish as well as English, Slade said. Having an interpreter speak to employees every few months also could make workers more comfortable and satisfied.
“If you have someone come in two times a year, you’re talking about $150,” he said after the presentation. “That tells Spanish speakers that you care, you want to help. I think that’s a really easy solution. It’s not permanent – it’s a Band-Aid – but it helps.”
Slade encouraged the participants to avoid stereotyping Latino workers. Many are highly educated, he said. He also touched on the legality issue.
“In this country, we are innocent until proven guilty, so I assume you’re here legally until you’re proven illegal,” Slade said.
Dina Fisher, who works in human resources with Resort Group, attended the talk to get ideas to take back to her department.
“Our goal is to make everybody feel equal, like they’re part of the community,” Fisher said. The company wants to make its Spanish-speaking workers feel comfortable, she said.
“We’re a U.S. company, and we do business in English,” she said. “But that’s such a divisional statement, to say it’s their responsibility to learn English.”
After his talk, Slade discussed a presentation he made a few months ago to the High Country Human Resources Association near Vail. Before he spoke, he met a Spanish-speaking waitress. He asked her what she would want her employers to know.
He described her response:
“She said, ‘I want people to know how hard it is to be in the United States and not speak English. I want people to be more patient. If I don’t show up to work on time, don’t assume I’m being irresponsible. Maybe I have a problem with my kids. Maybe I’m worried about (immigration officials). : Who am I going to call? HR doesn’t speak Spanish.
“‘Who can I tell?'”
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