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UCLA administration offers Spanish class to employees

By Delara Shakib

Feb. 14, 2014 1:19 a.m.

The UCLA administration is offering a Spanish course to all university employees for the first time this year to facilitate communication with Spanish-speaking colleagues.

Employees can currently enroll in the class, which begins Tuesday and runs until April 24. The class will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. each week. Certain departments can cover the $177 course fee for their employees.

This is the first time the UCLA Staff Diversity and Compliance Office will offer the program to all staff on campus. Previously, the Spanish as a Second Language program was only available to staff members in some departments, including Health Sciences, General Services, Housing and Dining Services, Transportation and Medical Services.

But program coordinators said they decided to offer the class to departments campus-wide because of the demand to learn Spanish in other departments and the ability to boost morale in the workplace.

The program’s coordinator Lee Walton wrote the proposal for the course 10 years ago after noticing a large number of Spanish-speaking employees were enrolled in classes to learn English, while many managers and supervisors didn’t know any Spanish.

The course has both a language and a culture component. Susana Zarate, who will teach the language class, said while staff probably won’t be able to sit down and read Don Quixote by the end of the course, they’ll at least be able to hold a basic conversation.

“We wanted to find a way to continue creating a culture of inclusion,” said Jorge Cherbosque, co-director of UCLA’s Staff and Faculty Counseling Center, who teaches the cultural component of the Spanish program.

He added he thinks it is important for staff, particularly managers, to have a sense of the cultural context of their employees and be sensitive to subtle culture differences.

For instance, in a hospital the general policy is that there cannot be more than one visitor in a room, Cherbosque said. But he said he thinks hospital staff should appreciate that it might feel particularly difficult for a Latino family to leave their loved one.

Learning basic Spanish has helped Mark Speare, chief human resources officer for UCLA Health Sciences who took the class in 2012, make meaningful connections with Spanish speakers which he said he wasn’t able to make before.

A large proportion of the patient population at UCLA hospitals only speaks Spanish, Speare said. Before taking the class, he would have to rely on an English-speaking relative to translate for him.

“Now at least I can ask them ‘Está cansado?’ … are you tired? Or ‘Tiene dolor?’ (are you in pain?),” Speare said.

Speare added knowing how to speak Spanish in general is also applicable to living in Los Angeles.

“These simple connections really enrich your life in Southern California – you open up this other world that you otherwise would be shut off to,” Speare said.

So far, Walton said she has received a lot of interest for the upcoming session, with about 20 spaces out of 30 already filled.

Shirelle Alexander, senior personnel analyst for human resources, was the first UCLA employee to sign up for this session and said that she is ready to “jump in with both feet.”

“I’ve always found it a romantic language,” she said.

Alexander is also taking the course because she is regularly on the phone with Spanish-speaking staff from the UCLA Faculty Center and wants to be able to speak to them without an interpreter.

In the future, Walton said she would like to introduce similar programs for other languages, such as Farsi, Mandarin and Tagalog.

“It’s important that we speak the language of our customer and our community – of the people that we interface with on a daily basis,” she said.

Staff can enroll in Spanish 1 up until the course begins next week, Walton said.

UCLA Staff Diversity and Compliance Office will repeat the course in the summer for those unable to make this session. In the fall, those who want to take their language further can also progress into Spanish 2.

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