Spanish for growers

With many growers now dependent on a non- English-speaking workforce, the issue of communication is more pressing than ever. In addition to the barrier of verbal discussions, the inability of laborers to read crucial instructions and warnings can be dangerous. Whether you are interested in learning Spanish or another language, or in encouraging your workers to study English, there are options to fit any budget, location and time constraints.

Efforts to bridge the language barrier

A 2005 U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) study surveyed employers in several industries, including agriculture, about their needs for their Spanish-speaking workforce. Participants were eager to help employees learn English and also recognized a growing need for bilingual skills throughout their companies, particularly in service industries. They indicated that further general education, in addition to English, benefited their businesses by increasing Hispanic purchasing power of U.S. goods and services, reducing employee retention costs by hiring Hispanic workers who tend to be loyal and maintaining global marketplace competitiveness.

Learning Spanish, or another language, facilitates communication and relations with non-English-speaking workers.
Photo Courtesy Of Morguefiles.Com.

Of course, the participating companies were most interested in sponsoring proven language acquisition programs. Hands-on instruction was found to be more successful than manuals, as were classes limited to six offered on the job site before or after work or during lunch. Integrating workplace instruction with family and community involvement was most effective. Employers and managers who simultaneously studied Spanish were motivating to their workers; other incentives such as pay raises also encouraged participation. Some found that as few as six weeks of well-structured instruction can be effective.

DOL officials recommended that proven, industry-specific language programs are needed, along with resources for locating such services. Employers urged additional community and/or government support.

Bill Karle, an almond grower in Southern California, has worked with Spanish-speaking laborers for decades. Although his ongoing efforts to learn the language have borne fruit, he thinks more can be done to help ease the process and would support DOL recommendations.

Classroom options

Traditional classroom study of either English or Spanish is available in many communities. Colleges often offer reasonably priced continuing education courses. Guilford Technical Community College in North Carolina offers a four-week beginning Spanish course for $55; it meets one evening weekly for 2.5 hours. English as a second language courses are available at no cost. Ball State University in Indiana has conducted Community Spanish: A Survival Guide for English Speakers, which includes four three-hour classes and materials for $195. Local groups, such as houses of worship and migrant and immigrant organizations, may also teach English. One-Stop Job Centers, operated by DOL’s Employment and Training Administration, are other resources. The national Portable Assisted Study Sequence (PASS) Program offers English and other secondary courses to migrants. Find a state contact list at

Growers who want to establish on-site classes may seek assistance from those same sources, along with area English as a second language public school teachers and bilingual acquaintances of Hispanic employees.

Private schools or tutoring services specializing in language are less common today. One company operating in about 25 states, primarily the Midwest and Southeast, is Berlitz ( Several options for face-to-face learning, including private and small group lessons, are available; costs vary by service and location. Small groups meet twice a week for eight weeks.

Classroom instruction offers qualified instructors, professional materials and immediate feedback and reinforcement. Drawbacks may include lack of resources in some areas, transportation issues and scheduling conflicts.

Internet opportunities

The advent of the Internet opened new doors for language acquisition. An array of private and group lessons, webinars and other options are offered.

The Web site www.e-spanyol/hu/en provides no-cost resources for learning Spanish vocabulary and verbs. Tests, games and other aids are available. Learn the basics at no cost at Online tutorials, including pronunciation guides, are included. A free membership allows users to take tests and record results. Advanced study is $9.95 a month. The site’s complete course consists of a one-year online membership and 12 instructional CDs for $165. Lessons, dictionaries, cultural information and more resources are featured on the BBC’s Spanish language site, Berlitz’s online self-study course is available for $500. For motivated learners, this type of study is affordable and convenient for Internet users.

An Arizona Spanish teacher offers complimentary video podcast lessons at A full course can be accessed at a cost of $55. A similar audiocast service is available at Download the Foreign Language Institute’s Spanish language learning program for free at

Workers may learn English online with self-study at sites such as and Additional resources are listed at’s English as a second language site,

Combine the benefits of Web-based and face-to-face instruction in English or Spanish with online classes. Berlitz’s virtual classroom approach allows students to work with a teacher via Internet in either a private or small group setting. Private lessons run about $3,000; group study costs about $1,500.

Home study courses

Study English or Spanish at any time or location with commercial language programs. Pimsleur ( promises to have users speaking a new language in just 10 days. Its method is audio only, with no reading, writing or computer use. Based on the premise that only 2,500 words in any language are commonly used, Pimsleur says its half-hour lessons are “scientifically sequenced” for easy mastery of common words and phrases. The $19.95 package (which was reduced to $9.95 with free shipping at press time) includes eight lessons on four CDs, which are also MP3 and iPod compatible, and a 30-day money-back guarantee. Although Pimsleur won’t build reading and writing skills, it may be a good choice for those primarily interested in spoken language.

Rosetta Stone’s ( program goes deeper, guiding users to learn a new language in the same way that native tongues are mastered: by immersing into the spoken and written word without translations and drills. Levels from beginner to advanced are available. The interactive software allows students to listen, speak and read. The beginning package for English or Spanish includes the software, a headset with microphone and audio CDs that reinforce the computer-based lessons. At a cost of $299 at press time, it offers a six-month money-back guarantee.

These programs offer options and flexibility in learning style, venue, skill level and scheduling. What’s missing is the extra assistance that instructors and textbooks offer. Both Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone enjoy good reputations and are guaranteed, making them good choices for independent learners.

Ingles sin Barreras is a well-known English language program for Spanish speakers. Its multimedia, interactive format is available on 12 DVDs with reinforcement CDs, manuals and workbooks. In addition to language itself, the program allows self-study in workplace and community culture, U.S. rights and citizenship procedures. It is available through Lexicon Bilingual Resources (, which also offers online and classroom products.

Beg, borrow or barter for a new tongue

For some growers, other options may be more beneficial. If computer and/or Internet availability and skills is lacking, the choices are limited. Some regions have few educational and community resources. In these instances, creativity can help growers and workers gain new language skills.

Neighboring farmers or commodity associations may consider collaborating to share costs and resources and establish study that may be difficult for a single grower to arrange. Bilingual workers or high school and college students may be willing teach others. Qualified public school or university instructors may exchange lessons for produce. Employers interested in building relationships with laborers could trade informal instruction in their respective languages. Similar options may be explored for translating vital information when necessary.

Karle has used a combination of tools to learn Spanish, but says he needs more study.

“I can communicate with workers, but it’s not easy,” he says. “I would like to have a way for it to flow out of my mouth easily.” His ideal method would be a Web-based resource that emphasizes conversational Spanish geared to agriculture.

“Most Spanish speakers do appreciate my efforts and want to learn English themselves,” Karle adds.

More Online Resources

Print DOL notices in Spanish online at

A dictionary is available at

Translate blocks of text up to 150 words at Yahoo!’s Babel Fish site,

Based in Greensboro, N.C., the author writes articles about horticulture, landscaping, agriculture and travel. She has been a contributor to Moose River Media publications for three years.