Speaking of Communication – Learning English

Posted: January 24, 2008

Vinton Smith, Dairy Management Agent & Capital Region Dairy Team Leader
January 11, 2002

An earlier column reviewed the importance of communicating with your dairy farm employees, especially those who speak a completely different language. That column also reviewed the important reasons why you should consider learning Spanish if you are employing Hispanic workers.

I also mentioned another important aspect of employing and communicating with Hispanic workers. That was to help them learn English. While the primary responsibility should be on the manager to learn Spanish, he or she should also strongly encourage Hispanic workers to learn English and improve their communication skills. Most Hispanic workers want to be able to speak English and are eager to put a little effort forth to learn, especially if they see you learning Spanish.

The keys to helping your Hispanic workers learn English is to provide them with right motivation and resources that will enable them to learn a new language. Simply providing encouragement to study English without added resources or providing books, tapes and training in English without motivating them to learn will not give you the results you want. Many workers will likely continue to speak Spanish and say to you, “No hablo inglés. (I don’t speak English).”

There are two motivational techniques that have worked very well on many dairy farms. They are: 1) lead by example through learning Spanish and 2) provide financial incentives to the employees who put out a lot of effort and actually learn English.

Leading by Example:
Farm owners and managers who begin to learn Spanish and try communicating with their Hispanic workers will find that the workers are suddenly more interested in trying to learn English. In addition, they will typically be much more likely to try speaking English phrases and terms. There is one primary reason that “leading by example” is a very effective method of
motivating the Hispanic employees to learn and use English. That reason is because of the employee/supervisor relationship. Employees often feel a certain amount of apprehension when talking to their supervisor under normal situations. When the language barrier is added to that relationship, the employees feel even more apprehension.

Many Hispanic workers tend to shy away from speaking English to their supervisors, including those who are capable of speaking some English, because they don’t want to look uneducated in front of “the boss.” Trying to speak a new language through learning vocabulary, context, and dialects is challenging. Once you show them that it is okay to “stumble across words and phrases” as you work to learn Spanish, they will realize that it is also okay for them to do the same as they learn English.

Financial Incentives:
Financial incentives or bonuses to the Hispanic workers are often effective at getting workers to attend classes and practice English. Often, financial incentives are the leading factor that originally motivates potential workers to leave their native country and to look for work in the United States. When they have an opportunity to earn more money by attending English classes, they will often take you up on your offer.

I suggest that you pay the cost of a tutor or the tuition for English classes. In addition, once employees complete certain classes or predetermined levels of advancement, he or she should earn bonuses. Be certain that the bonus is in line with the amount of commitment that an employee will need to put forth as he or she is learning English.

As the Hispanic workers strive to learn English and you are striving to learn Spanish, challenge each other as you are working together. Help each other to learn additional words and phrases that are important to working on a dairy farm. You and your employees will discover a very rewarding, fun and cooperative relationship. Furthermore, you will have employees that you can communicate with and train to do their jobs better. You will certainly find many other benefits as you and your Hispanic employees learn each other’s language.