Wednesday 19th July, 2006


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Spanish in the office

With the March 2005 Cabinet mandate to make Spanish the first foreign language of T&T, every citizen should have assumed a responsibility to not only learn the Spanish language but also to learn about the culture behind the language itself.

The benefits to knowing Spanish in the world in which we live today, and more importantly in the hemisphere in which we live, are well known and far reaching.

Too often we make excuses in an attempt to justify why we are not taking any steps to develop proficiency in the language that contributes more than $1.3 billon annually to our economy, the language that is driving trade negotiations in our corner of the world.

A lack of time or due to work constraints is the most common of these excuses. However, it is possible to learn Spanish while at the place at which you spend most of your time each day—the office.

It is no secret that a critical aspect of learning any foreign language is the creation of an environment that is conducive to the acquisition of that language: an immersion environment. One way to do this in your workplace is by introducing bilingual (English/Spanish) signage.

The first step in the process is to look around your internal and external work environment and identify the most important and useful signs that are worth translating.

Upon doing this, a list of potential bilingual signs can be created and then passed on to a language service provider for translation. Once the signs have been translated, the next step is the actual manufacturing of the bilingual signs. This may be done in one of two ways.

Firstly, professional signage providers can be asked to submit quotations and one can be contracted to manufacture the signs. However, the more cost-effective alternative would be to create in-house signs.

By using the regular office computer and printer, it is very easy to make simple signs in Microsoft Word or Publisher, placing the English first and then the Spanish translation. These signs can then be laminated and placed in the respective areas.

Another way to help create that English/ Spanish atmosphere at work is to introduce resources that are Hispanic in nature to the workplace. In their article “Culture in second language teaching,” Elizabeth Peterson and Bronwyn Coltrane of the Centre for Applied Linguistics in the US support this by saying:

“Using authentic sources from the native speech community help to engage students in authentic cultural experiences. Sources can include films, news broadcasts, and television shows, Web sites and photographs, magazines, newspapers, restaurant menus, travel brochures, and other printed materials.”

Therefore, to achieve this in the workplace, posters, magazines, and travel brochures from Spanish-speaking countries can be appropriately placed in the office for the benefit of employees.

If background music is normally played throughout the day or a radio is available, it is also a good idea to acquire CDs and play music from Spanish-speaking artistes. More mellow artistes, suitable for the office environment, include Alejandro Fernandez, Gloria Estefan, the Buena Vista Social Club, and Luz Casal.

After creating the right immersion environment, it is highly recommended that one takes the necessary steps to discover the culture behind the language one is learning.

According to the Centre for Applied Linguistics: “In fact, students cannot truly master the language until they have also mastered the cultural contexts in which the language occurs.”

A possible way of achieving this in the office is by creating a Spanish club. The purpose of such a club would be to promote learning the Spanish language via fun, interesting and educational activities. Group outings can be planned to Latin dance clubs.

Club members can meet on a regular basis to play board games like ¿Adivina quién? (Guess Who) and Scrabble, or watch movies together—all in Spanish of course. Members can also share their personal Spanish-language resources with one another, whether these are CDs, DVDs, books or magazines, during the normal lunch hour.

Naturally, the most important part of acquiring a first foreign language is actually learning the language. The only logical way to achieve this in the office is to offer Spanish classes to employees by way of a language service provider.

Meet with several providers before selecting the one that is best able to meet the needs of employees. These needs include the employee’s level of Spanish, the most effective learning method for him/her, the amount of time for which he/she is available, etc.

Some providers even customise programmes around the needs identified by their clients, which make it a lot easier to facilitate employees who are learning the language.

There are ways by which a company can also help its employees learn Spanish. One or two employees can be responsible for teaching staff a new Spanish word on a daily basis. Perhaps, the information technology department can do this by changing all screensavers or desktop display images to show a new word a day, along with its English translation.

An alternative method of dissemination is to send the word-a-day via e-mail to employees. If all employees do not have access to a computer, do not worry, they do not have to be left out. The new word can be stuck up on the notice board in the office or in the lunchroom on a daily basis, or if this is too time-consuming, a group of words can be stuck up on a weekly basis.

By the year 2020, every citizen of T&T is expected to be at a conversant level in the Spanish language. Our nation’s children are being taught Spanish in school via the education system. Isn’t it time you also learnt the language that this country is adopting as its first foreign language? Now, you can work and learn Spanish at the same time. You have no excuse!

For more information about the Spanish as the First Foreign Language (SAFFL) initiative, please contact the Secretariat for the Implementation of Spanish (a division of the Ministry of Trade and Industry) at 624-8329/627-9513 or fax us at 623-0365

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