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January 01, 2000
Supervisors, Coworkers Learning 'Survival Spanish'
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As Latino immigration transforms much of the U.S., more Americans find themselves confronted in the workplace by Spanish, now the nation's second-most-spoken language. In response, the Washington Post reports, a small but growing number of workers are trying to learn at least "survival Spanish."

From 1986 to 1998, enrollment in Spanish classes doubled at community colleges, which often cater to working adults. Many took a new kind of brief, work-oriented course: construction Spanish, health care Spanish, restaurant Spanish, or firefighter Spanish.

In the Washington area, companies ranging from construction contractors to the Target discount stores are teaching basic Spanish to English-speaking supervisors of immigrant employees, according to the Post.

"Ten years ago, this trend was urban," said Dave Edwards, executive director of the Joint National Committee for Languages, a Washington-based lobbying group. "Now, you can find it in the hills of North Carolina. It's all over."

The Post, citing Census data, notes that the Latino population grew by about 60 percent in the 1990s. While one of eight U.S. residents is Latino, in some areas they are more numerous in the work force or client base.

The newspaper goes on to report that Washington-area government agencies also are offering instruction. Sixty-one employees completed the District of Columbia's Spanish course this year, twice as many as last year, said Sharon Gang, a mayoral spokeswoman.

Controversy has followed the move to expand Spanish instruction, according to the Post, which cites worries among some about immigrants being coddled by Spanish-speaking workers and not feeling a need to adapt. Others think that the emergence of a second national language is a byproduct of runaway immigration that should be reduced.

"The difficulties created for American employers or government workers is something we should consider when debating what's a desirable level of immigration," said Steve Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank.


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