Hispanic Worker Training

¿Habla Español? Training a Multilingual Audience

Trainers need to find ways to hurdle language barriers. While English is a second language for an increasing percentage of the workforce, employers are still obligated to make sure Hispanic and other immigrant employees understand training provided to them. It's not enough to make a presentation if you know that members of your audience may not be able to understand or use the information effectively. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Department of Labor (DOL), and other government agencies are keenly aware of this, noting, for example, that workplace fatalities among Hispanics in the construction industry have increased at the same time that the total number of fatalities has declined.

With the growing awareness of the need for multilingual communication and training, there are many programs and other resources that address this issue.

  • Check with OSHA and other federal and state government agencies. There may be government-funded programs or other forms of assistance in your area that focus on English-as-a-second-language (ESL).
  • Identify ESL programs in your local area. These are commonly available through community colleges and adult education programs. Then find ways to encourage ESL employees to take the courses they need to improve their English.
  • Find bilingual co-workers who can help make sure your safety message is getting through--and let you know if it's not.
  • Offer trusted off-the-shelf training courses, such as the Spanish language online courses, PowerPoint® sessions, booklets, and DVDs offered by BLR. You should make sure course content and quiz content correlates exactly to what employees are trained on in English to ensure consistent baseline knowledge among staff.
Tips for better communication with multilingual audiences:
  • Acknowledge that the language barrier exists. Many people who are not fluent in English are reluctant to admit it, leading them to pretend as though they understand what you say. Let them know that your goal is to teach your topic, not English, and that it's OK for them to keep asking questions until they really understand your message.
  • Speak slowly and clearly--this makes it much easier for people who know basic English but are not truly fluent. Try to avoid using jargon or jokes, which can be incomprehensible or confusing.
  • Learn some key words and phrases in other languages. You don't have to become fully bilingual, but you can help break down barriers by showing your willingness to make an effort to improve communications.
Other Hispanic and ESL training best practices include:
  • Don't assume the immigrant worker understands what you're saying. Use pictures, diagrams, and other props to communicate.
  • If you don't speak the worker's mother tongue, use body language to communicate and show you care. Say hello or good morning, use the individual's name, and look the worker straight in the eye.
  • Customize training by using videotape or photos of workers doing their jobs. It's a popular technique because it gives employees a personal view of safety. It's especially helpful when language skills are low.
  • Even if you don't speak the language of the workers, take steps to understand their customs and culture. For example, if Latino workers are told to be on the job at 8:00 a.m., they may arrive 5 or 10 minutes late, as is common in their home countries. Understanding these differences will help you interpret workers' behavior and suggest how to effect changes.
  • Remember the value of "MBWA," or managing by walking around. Get out among the workforce. Observe how they're performing their tasks, and talk to them about hazards and solutions.
Why It Matters...
  • The number of foreign-born people in the United States has jumped more than 50 percent since 1990--from 20 million to more than 30 million.
  • The percentage of immigrants in the workforce is estimated at 14 percent--that's 1 in 7--and higher in some regions of the United States, such as the West and Southwest.
  • Nearly half of immigrants in the United States are considered to have limited proficiency in English.
More About Hispanic Training

Spanish Resources at the U.S. Department of Labor
OSHA Compliance Assistance: Hispanic Employers and Workers
HR Spanish Language Resources
Safety Spanish Language Resources
Safety Training for Spanish-Speaking Workers
HR for Spanish-Speaking Employees

Other Training Topics

Training ROI (Return on Investment)
Mandatory Employee Training
Training Program Reinforcement
Supervisor and Management Training