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Spanish as a second language becoming important in state

Mississippi’s population is becoming more diverse, and without a doubt the number of Spanish-speaking residents is growing rapidly. Learning Spanish as a second language is increasing as a choice and a necessity for many business people and others who want to communicate better with this large segment.

The demand for Spanish classes is so large at the University of Mississippi that the Modern Language Department is finding ways to meet that need without increasing the budget. Louisiana State University is looking at the Ole Miss computer-augmented instruction as a model.

“We have a hybrid class that mixes in-class instruction with online instruction because we don’t have enough teachers for classes every day. Our students can get a lot of information and audio online. There’s a lot there,” said Dr. Donald Dyer, department chairman. “Spanish is always over enrolled. We have seen the numbers growing and there’s an unrelenting demand for Spanish.”

Dyer says this demand for Spanish is seen by many as the wave of the future and by some students as an easy second language to learn. “That’s a great myth out there,” he said. “Languages are not easy no matter which one it is, although some pose more problems because they’re farther away from English.”

While Spanish is in the same family of languages with English, Dyer says English is more closely related to German than any other language. Some up and coming languages, such as Chinese, Korean, Arabic and Farsi, are not in the English language family and are quite difficult.

He notes the shifting demographics in this country and the practicality of learning Spanish. “Mississippians who don’t travel much outside the state are shocked when they go certain places and English is the odd language,” he added. “It will reach the point that it’s a strong enough presence you will need to speak Spanish. It will become apparent to everyone.”

Hispanics are becoming more and more an integral part of the construction industry, according to Buddy Edens, president of the Mississippi Associated Builders and Contractors.

“It’s estimated they’re 80% of the workforce on the Coast right now,” he said. “There’s always a language barrier and we do offer Spanish classes to our contractors.”

Those contractor classes have been offered for two years through the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation. Director Robert Dean says contractual instructors are used for the 16-hour mini course designed to introduce Command Construction Spanish to superintendents, foremen and other job site supervisors.

“This course will provide those with a supervisory role the basic tools needed to provide direction and instruction to their Spanish-speaking employees,” he said. “We’ve been having it about once a quarter but could wind up doing it two or three times because there is an increase in interest.”

Dean says that interest has been growing steadily since Hurricane Katrina struck in Mississippi. “We haven’t seen the full brunt yet because it’s still mostly clean up right now,” he said. “We’re having new fliers made up to send out and will contact contractors through the associations and monthly meetings. We try to fulfill a need for our industry and have a lot of partners working on this.”

University of Southern Mississippi Spanish professor Dr. Rafael Sanchez also has seen the numbers increasing in Spanish classes. He maintains that immersion is the best way to learn a second language. The Hattiesburg campus had 21 sections of Spanish 101 in the fall semester. He points out that the United States Senate designated 2006 as the Year of Foreign Languages.

“Learning a second language is very important for realizing our own potential and to understand other people — how they think and how they act,” he said. “Language is part of culture and we should learn more about the culture. That’s very enlightening.”

A native of Spain, Sanchez says learning other cultures and languages would bring better understanding to nations. He feels everyone will win.

“Americans would benefit most because they don’t know other languages,” he said. “In Europe, everyone knows other languages.”

Sanchez came to this country in 1977 and to USM in 1981. He is a former chairman of the Foreign Language Department there and now directs the Foreign Language Abroad Program. The department has presented a number of courses for business people but he says the enrollment has not been great. He thinks that’s because they want a quick fix in two weeks.

“We would be happy to offer night classes for business people again,” he said. “My advice for business people is to have bilingual Hispanics deal with workers. Also, have executives learn Spanish and put them in positions of leadership to communicate.”

Again, he stressed the importance of not just learning the language but the Spanish culture as well for the most effective communication.

Edens says communicating in the construction industry is made easier because Hispanics usually travel in groups. One in the group is fluent in English and interprets for the others.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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