I’m In Construction With All Spanish-Speaking Coworkers

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about communicating with Spanish-speaking coworkers:

I work for a construction company and all of my coworkers are Spanish I find it difficult to do my job efficiently because they pass down orders and give directions in Spanish.. is there something that I can do about this.

Signed–Not Bilingual

Dear Not Bilingual:

You want to do good work and are frustrated because all your coworkers communicate fluently–they pass down orders and give directions in Spanish. From the little you say, I assume you are a coworker who knows only English. My short answer is that you probably can’t do very much. But you can try to learn key words about your kind of construction tasks.

If you were to move to another country with a language unknown to you, you’d be forced to ask, “what’s that?” and to repeat the word again and again if you were to eat and do what was needed to live. I’ve spoken with Americans of about 20  years of age, who were in such situations and learned to communicate minimally well within a couple of weeks. So learn words and learn to point and ask. Then demonstrate words you learn, and I predict your coworkers will do the same–asking you “what’s that” and repeating what words you give them in English.

What matters is the job you must cooperate to accomplish. A humble, cooperative, and cheerful attitude will help. Friendship can cross language gaps.                                                

If you were the boss, the best you could do most quickly would be to see which one of your Spanish-speaking crew is most fluent in English. Then have him/her near you when you give instructions and get information from other Spanish speaking employees. You might frankly talk with your boss, telling him you want to do things well and not make mistakes. Also tell him you are trying hard to communicate with your coworkers. This could be a time to suggest that he/she adds a new hire who is bilingual.   

I’m sorry that our educational system generally has failed to teach languages we are likely to need within this country. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and learning each other’s language helps that. –William Gorden