Spanish language classes create opportunity for connection

When the phone rings and the woman on the other end asks her question in hesitant English mixed with Spanish, she finds herself surprised that the King County employee responds to her in Spanish and directs her to a translator who can better assist.

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Teacher Teresa Ramon Joffre oversees employee-students in the Language in Motion program.

Such smooth and welcoming customer experiences might be all thanks to King County’s Language in Motion program. King County has partnered with Seattle Colleges to offer Introductory Spanish business language classes. The classes are aimed at getting frontline employees in agencies such as Elections and Records and Licensing, and in customer support roles, familiar with Spanish used in a business setting.

The idea came after Learning and Development asked employees what they wanted for classes. One common answer: When would King County offer language classes?

It sparked a thought.

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Marc leads the Language in Motion program.

“When the Equity and Social Justice office announced they would be accepting proposals for a fund on how to make King County better a place, we decided to apply,” said Marc Alvarado, who leads the Language in Motion effort.

He created a proposal for King County to offer language classes to managers and supervisors through local colleges. When the proposal was accepted, Spanish was chosen as the first language to be taught as it is the most spoken language in King County after  English. To receive the $10,000 funding, the Office of Equity and Social Justice stipulated the Language in Motion classes needed to be offered to employees interacting with community members daily, rather than their supervisors.

“The idea was to break down some of the barriers,” Alvarado said. “If employees had basic knowledge to help when a Spanish-speaking person called, they would be able to improve the customer service experience for both customer and the King County employee.”

In fall of 2015, the first King County Language in Motion classes sold out in half a day and had 40 people on the waiting list. The four-week course taught employees how to hold basic conversations, to count and to know the days and months. In addition to two-hour long classes each week, employees were assigned homework to increase their reading and writing skills alongside their retention of class-learned material.

The goal is to see 100 employees through the program within a year. Currently each class enrolls about 15 people, but Alvarado hopes King County and Seattle Colleges will be able to offer more classes, snowballing into a bigger program.

The program also hopes extend its language class offerings.

The next session of Introduction to Spanish for Business Professionals begins April 6. Employees must be available to attend class every Wednesday from April 6 until April 27. Learn more and register here.