Make Your Graduates More Employable

Make Your Graduates More Employable

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ReBasic Conversational Spanish for Non-Spanish Speaking Students and Spanish for the Spanish-Speaking Students

By Luis Garcia Jr., Garcia-Shilling International (GSI) and Stephen B. Friedheim, Education Systems & Solutions

“What is your name?” “¿Cómo se llama usted?”

“How can I help you?” “¿Cómo puedo ayudarle?”

“What seems to be the problem, Sir?” “Señor, puede decirme cuál es el problema?

“What is your policy number?” “¿Cuál es el número de su póliza”

“Would you like to make a deposit into your checking account or savings account?” “¿Desea efectuar un depósito en su cuenta corriente o de ahorros?”

“How do you feel” “¿Cómo se siente usted?”

“Where does it hurt?” “¿Dónde le duele?”

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What do these phrases have to do with employability? They have much to do with employability! These are basic questions one would expect to hear in a customer service setting, at a banking institution, or in a healthcare facility. Where is this happening? Texas? Florida? California? It could indeed be one of these states, but today in the United States, this could be anywhere.

The reality is that more and more of the United States population has come from a Latin American country. Current studies predict Spanish will become a prominent language in the United States in the not too distant future.

Careers dealing with the public will offer greater employment opportunities if the graduate has, at a minimum, proficiency in basic conversational Spanish.

For the Spanish-speaking graduate who has mastered professional conversational Spanish, he or she has even more employment opportunities available. You can confirm this by simply pulling up any job search site and seeing for yourself how many job postings list “Spanish preferred.” The change is not happening. It has happened. Is your curriculum addressing this reality?

To recognize this reality, you need to offer two distinctly different Spanish language curriculums. Why two curriculums? Because you have two types of potential students – non-Spanish speakers and Spanish speakers. One can easily envision the need for a Spanish for non-Spanish speakers curriculum, but why Spanish for Spanish speakers? Many of your Spanish speaking students (or potential students) grew up speaking Spanish at home. These Spanish speakers are called “heritage” speakers. Typically, “heritage” speakers cannot function effectively in a professional work environment using the Spanish they learned with their families. Why can’t they? They can´t because many of these individuals are not truly proficient in Spanish. This is because they have never formally studied Spanish.

Often, the heritage Spanish speakers have a very basic understanding of grammar. Also, they lack the vocabulary needed to function in a professional setting. Furthermore, they lack an understanding of the protocol needed to function in a professional setting in Spanish be it at a bank or a customer service environment or a hospital. In other words, they have probably never had to take a business-related phone call in Spanish or handle customer complaints in Spanish or interpret critical medical information between a patient and healthcare provider. Your curriculum can fill these needs.

Arguably, no other industry has been more greatly impacted by the demographic changes in the U.S. than healthcare.

Hospitals throughout the country have a pressing need for bilingual employees. The most critical need is for bilingual employees that can interpret conversations between patients and providers. For many hospitals, it is much more economical to hire a healthcare professional who has proven proficiency in Spanish than someone who only speaks English.

Dr. Glenn Flores, director of the General Pediatrics Division at the University of Texas Southwestern and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, was quoted in the March 19, 2014, issue of The Atlantic, “The medical encounter is incredibly complex and nuanced; if you just have a simple tablet that asks, do you have pain or not, that’s going to give people a false sense of security. You are going to end up putting people at risk.” The solution is having people on staff that can interview and communicate effectively with the native Spanish-speaking client or patient.

Federal law now requires all healthcare facilities that receive federal funding to offer language services to patients who need them. Most large hospitals accomplish this by relying on a mix of staff interpreters, bilingual staff and off-site interpretation services. Unfortunately, there are not enough qualified Spanish speakers in the workforce. Fewer than half of the patients who needed an interpreter reported that they had not received the assistance they needed.

Let’s take a look at the bigger picture and the challenges the U.S. workforce faces. Fact: The United States is currently the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, just behind Mexico and just ahead of Colombia and Spain. The estimate is that there are 41 million native speakers and 12 million bilingual speakers in the United States.

An article that quotes the Pew Research Center with figures provided by Instituto Cervantes says that, “If we would add the 9.7 million of undocumented immigrants to the total number of Hispanics in the census, the number of potential speakers of Spanish in the United States would rise to about 62 million people.” The Instituto Cervantes is a cultural organization that promotes the Spanish language.

If the growth projections for the Latino population stay as they are, the U.S. will be the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world by 2050. According to the study, Hispanics will reach 132.8 million – and 30 percent will use Spanish as their mother tongue.

When that happens, not if that happens, Spanish will be heard in more and more settings than those in the healthcare field. The healthcare and the legal fields have been among the first to publicly acknowledge the need for a solution.

Virtually every career field is finding a need for Spanish-language speaking candidates. For example, Pew Research Center indicated that in 2013, there were already eight states that have a Hispanic population of over 1 million: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Arizona, New Jersey, and Colorado.

Korn/Ferry International Executive Recruiter Index reports that 88 percent of executive recruiters say the ability to speak more than one language is critical to international business success. Seventy-nine percent of North American recruiters cited Spanish as the additional language most in demand by employers. French was next at 43 percent, followed by Mandarin Chinese at 30 percent.

Tom Birmingham, Korn/Ferry’s managing director of global accounts, notes that he recently drove through the Atlanta suburb of Norcross and estimates 70 percent of the billboards were in Spanish. “It’s not just California and Texas anymore,” he says. “Throughout the Southeast, more and more people are speaking Spanish. They come to America to work in agriculture and manufacturing, which translates into job opportunities.”

Customer service operations are also hiring bilingual workers. From clerks at the Department of Motor Vehicles to call center representatives to supervisors in the hospitality industry, the growth of Spanish speakers as both customers and workers means more demand for bilingual customer service.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, up to 20 percent of call center companies’ staffs are bilingual.

Salaries vary depending on additional skills required, but call centers are on record as paying bilingual workers substantially more per hour.

The Korn/Ferry survey showed the greatest need for bilingual employees is in the consumer services sector, particularly banking, retail and telecommunications.

Career education is an ideal place for Spanish language instruction, regardless of the actual career field. Jan Friedheim, who formerly owned and operated a very successful private college that educated executive assistants, legal assistants, computer specialists and paralegals, said, “We added Spanish skills to our programs and discovered that those graduates who possessed a Spanish skill were not only easier to place, had more employment opportunities, but also received higher salaries that averaged 25 percent higher than those graduates without the second language skill. At that time Spanish was an option; today it is a necessity.”

There are many ways the 100-hour Spanish curriculum could be added to your program such as:

  • Expand your current program by 100 hours;
  • Substitute the Spanish for current courses that are electives or could be deleted; or
  • Develop a new program with Spanish as a core portion of the curriculum.

The methods of delivery are also flexible such as:

  • Two hours a week for 50 weeks;
  • Four hours a week for 25 weeks;
  • Recommendation is that no more than four hours a week should be devoted to the Spanish curriculum;
  • Or it could be taught as an immersion course at the end of the other curriculum and students would take it as a stand-alone course. It is taught in three parts, beginner, intermediate and advanced intermediate.

The Spanish instruction was incorporated into the curriculum allowing the students to gain language skills as they acquired career-specific skills. Students took their courses in both Spanish and English, she reported. Jan would be happy to discuss how to integrate this curriculum; just email her at janfriedheim@yahoo.com or give her a call at 214.827.5403.

Does the addition of conversational Spanish to non-speakers or professional Spanish for those who are Spanish speakers have to be a lengthy program? No, simple programs can be developed to accomplish the goal in less than 100 clock hours. Well worth the time in dividends to your graduates.

The outcomes are amazing. Graduates are hired more quickly, get better positions, better salaries and faster promotions. The tracking of these graduates made a believer of Jan and her staff. Professional Spanish pays off in the medical field, legal offices, banking, insurance, global firms, NAFTA firms – in fact, every industry.

Take a look at your AT&T bill, and you’ll see in the CUSTOMER SUPPORT section they indicate that the company speaks many languages. If you have questions you can use a special 800 number to speak to someone in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese or some other language.

The future is now. Take a hard look at your current curriculum offerings; and if you are not delivering the language skills needed in the workplace, find a way to make some changes. Incorporate basic Spanish and the results will not only please you, your students and your employers, but the changes will enable your school to fulfill its mission – greater graduate employment.


Luis Garcia Jr.

GSI was founded in 1991 to meet the growing needs of communicating with the U.S. Hispanic population. We have combined our experiences in the business, medical, training, language and e-commerce industries to provide you with the language services you need to attract and retain non-English speaking customers, provide quality customer service, reduce liability issues, build rapport, minimize waste, increase production, hire bilingual employees and much more.



Contact Information: Luis A. Garcia, Jr. // Garcia-Shilling International (GSI) // 400 S. Zang Blvd., Suite 1218 // Dallas, TX 75208 // 214-942-4425, ext. 2# // acento2@swbell.net // www.garciashilling.com


Steve Friedheim

STEPHEN B. FRIEDHEIM, former president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Schools, and first chair of the Career College Association (Now CECU: Career Education Colleges and Universities), as well as former president of ESS College of Business in Dallas, provides consulting services with his wife, Jan, from Education Systems and Services in Dallas for the past 11 years.

They specialize on issues and opportunities related to accreditation, compliance, curriculum, in-service training, public relations, and strategic planning. Together they have given numerous presentations related to private career school operations and career services. As two of the best-known people in the field, they have had years of experience helping solve problems.


Contact Information: Stephen B. Friedheim // Strategic Coach // Education Systems & Solutions // 214-827-5403 or 214-587-5403 (cell) // sfriedheim@yahoo.com // www.essonline.biz

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