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HCC offers Spanish for the workplace

May 01, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Hugo Cardenas has come to expect 2 a.m. phone calls from the police station.

A Spanish instructor at Hagerstown Community College and a member of the Red Cross language bank, Cardenas said he has served as a Spanish translator for area agencies since the early 1960s.

Early on, the calls were infrequent, Cardenas said. Now, his phone rings regularly.

A growing regional Hispanic population has increased the need for professionals who speak Spanish, Cardenas said.

Hagerstown Community College aims to fill that need with a new course: occupational Spanish.

"This is generic Spanish that zeroes in on occupational needs," said Julie House, language coordinator for the Center for Continuing Education at HCC.

Offered in both credit and noncredit formats, the course is tailored to the specific needs of such groups as educators, health professionals, criminal justice system and law enforcement personnel, House said.

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These groups are often ill-equipped to communicate with native Spanish speakers, Cardenas said.

He cited a 1981 bus crash on Interstate 70 in which 24 Spanish tourists were injured. Washington County Hospital personnel called Cardenas and several other Spanish speakers from the Tri-state area to help communicate with the foreign patients, he said.

"With a few hours of training, they would be able to deal with these problems themselves," Cardenas said.

He said some 2,500 Spanish-speaking people live in the Tri-State area, and that number grows with the seasonal influx of migrant farm workers into the region.

"By the year 2000, the Hispanic group will be one of the largest populations in the country," Cardenas said. "In this area, we need to be especially addressing the problem of the language barrier."

The college partnered with Command Spanish, Inc. to provide functional Spanish language skills to community professionals.

The company has researched community needs and produced a variety of no-nonsense programs for adults who need job-specific Spanish, according to a Command Spanish, Inc. brochure.

The teaching system uses video, audio and text materials, Michael Parsons, dean of instruction at HCC, said.

"It's a high-quality program that gives useful, practical information," Parsons said.

The course provides specialized, technical information that differs from the conversational Spanish courses on the college's curriculum, he said.

"This is a base," Parsons said. "You can't go to Madrid or Mexico City and survive on the streets with this information, but if you have a grasp of some 200 job-specific phrases, you're going to be a whole lot more helpful."

Instructor Terry Angle, associate professor of foreign languages at HCC, taught the first session of the course to nursing professionals in January.

The "intense course" focuses on learning such basics as numbers, greetings, job-specific commands and cultural information, Angle said.

The emphasis is placed on pronunciation, she said.

Her students spent much of their time practicing phrases, which were displayed in English, traditional Spanish and encoded phonetic columns, she said.

The tapes and reference manuals with which students leave the course will provide valuable on-the-job resources, Angle said.

"I think the format works," she said.

Registered nurse Laurie Shinham said the Spanish basics she learned from the one-credit, 15-hour class will help her career.

"My goal was that if I had somebody come into an acute care session, I could at least do a basic health assessment," Shinham said.

In Spanish, Shinham recited such commands as "Sit up, please," "Cough," "Take this medicine," and "Push the button if you need the nurse."

She said she focused on learning phrases she knew she would use consistently.

"It was amazing how fast I learned," Shinham said. "We're eager to do it again, and pick up where we left off."

Parsons said goals for the next two to three years include fully integrating the occupational Spanish course into the college's strategic plan to ensure future funding, and expanding to other languages.

"I just think we found something here that's going to fill a niche," Parsons said.

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