Several years ago, a project manager for the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) traveled to Tokyo to make an important presentation to a Japanese executive on a large investment project. Even though a Japanese translator was hired for MDA, the project manager realized that the use of a translator would dilute his presentation skills and the effectiveness of the technical presentation. By chance, he learned that the Japanese executive had been stationed in Venezuela on a prior assignment with the firm.
“As soon as the project manager learned that the Japanese executive was fluent in Spanish, he began to speak fluently to him in Spanish and the interpreter was left sitting in the meeting not having a clue as to what was being said,” said Liz Cleveland of MDA’s International Trade Office. “The entire Mississippi presentation was made on the top floor of a major Japanese corporation in downtown Tokyo in Spanish. It’s a simple but great example of the importance of learning a foreign language in the global economy.”
Spanish is by far the most popular foreign language training requested in Mississippi. From 1980 to 2000, the Hispanic population in Mississippi increased 60%, from 24,731 to 39,568, prompting businesses of all genres to learn how to communicate with the growing minority group. The challenge also prompted Hispanics to learn English as a second language.
“Our Spanish-speaking population has grown in Mississippi in the last few years,” said Joan Davis-Haynes, workforce-training specialist at Hinds Community College (HCC) in Raymond. “Spanish-speaking individuals need services like healthcare, retail services and banking. We see more and more Spanish-speaking employees in the workplace. They need to understand safety regulations and job duties and responsibilities. Our public safety and criminal justice systems need to know how to communicate with Spanish-speaking individuals for their safety and to provide effective care.”
HCC uses Command Spanish Inc., the nation’s leading provider of customized Spanish language and cross-cultural programs and products for non-Spanish speakers.
“You could call it survival Spanish,” said Davis-Haynes. “It’s customized to meet the needs of the user. The company’s objective is to provide learner-friendly language materials and workshops that require no prior knowledge of Spanish. These programs eliminate the tedious grammar instruction found in most other language programs.”
Some of Command Spanish’s most popular programs for area professionals offered at HCC include:
• Dental and Medical — for dental staff, physicians’ office staff, nurses and respiratory therapists;
• Criminal Justice — for law enforcement officers, correctional staff and probation officers;
• Public Safety — for firefighters, paramedics and EMTs;
• Education — for school administrators, teachers, support staff and child care facilities;
• Business and Commerce — for secretaries, receptionists, retail clerks, bank tellers and data entry workers;
• Industry and Manufacturing — for industry, manufacturing, warehousing and construction workers; and
• Hospitality — for hotel/motel staff and restaurant staff.
“Prices are based on 20 participants and include course books and CEU credits,” said Davis-Haynes. “An eight-hour class ranges in price from $950 to $1,340. A 16-hour class ranges in price from $1,150 to $1,540.
In an eight-hour class, you can expect participants to learn approximately 30 job-specific phrases. In a 16-hour class, you can expect participants to learn approximately 45 job-specific phrases.”
When Nancy Ray opened The Learning Center in Flowood in 1996, she had three students. Today, she offers eight levels of conversational Spanish, and has 43 students.
“The phone is ringing every day, with students wanting to know when I’m going to offer the next class,” she said. “It’s phenomenal.”
Ray’s training takes students from asking “do you need help?” to “how can I help you?”
“Learning survival Spanish helps break down communication barriers, but learning conversational Spanish allows you to truly communicate,” she said.
Even though MDA does not offer any foreign language training, the trade staff is fluent in French, Spanish and Chinese and the foreign office staff is fluent in German, Italian, French, Japanese and Chinese, said Cleveland.
“When feasible, we provide translation services to facilitate meetings between Mississippi business people and foreign business contacts,” she said. “Most of our promotional materials are available in seven languages including Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Spanish, German and Japanese.”
Inquiries for translation services are referred to state universities and junior colleges in the areas they come from around the state, said Cleveland.
“We also have frequent inquiries from hospitals and medical offices as there are many non-English-speaking people in the workforce in Mississippi,” she said. “We usually refer these inquiries to the universities as well.”
Course offerings at the state’s public state colleges and universities have increased to include additional Spanish studies, and also French, Latin and Russian, according to the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.
Local workforce training centers are also offering Spanish classes. At the Charles W. Capps Jr. Technology Center in Indianola, English is offered as a second language for Hispanic workers, and survival Spanish is tailored for medical, law enforcement and banking groups.
“I’ve been here for four years in this position, and when I first came on board, we were having a few requests, but it’s increasing as the Hispanic population grows in the Delta,” said Perry Jenkins, center director. “It’s a vital part of the different entities of business success to be able to converse with these patients, clients or customers.”
The MDA trade office has been collaborating with the Mississippi World Trade Center (MWTC) to offer foreign language classes to business people, and MWTC plans to initiate classes based on the response of potential participants.
“Foreign language is definitely a barrier to international business development, but English is still the universal business language — at least for now,” said Cleveland. “In Europe, students are required to learn three languages, including their native language. Most learn English and French or German. The popularity of learning English by foreign students has kept English at the forefront of business negotiations, but has also resulted in Americans being lazy about learning other languages. As language is easier to learn at the earliest ages, elementary school would be the best time to introduce foreign languages.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.