¿Habla Usted Espanol?

Successfully managing a bilingual maintenance shop.

“Most of our people are truly bilingual and they don’t have that much of a problem with it—some actually prefer to use the Spanish forms because they are more familiar with it, but we encourage them to use the English ones so they can practice and get better,” he says. “It’s a big success story, because the guys are very talented, very smart and bright, want to learn, but they are language-challenged, so we’ve got to put it on their plate.”

The amount of bilingual information the shop receives from dealers has increased dramatically in recent years, Hammel says, also helping the situation.

“Quite a few of the manufacturers recognize that in certain parts of the country, the workforce is of Latino origin and consequently can be language-challenged, so they’ve produced a lot of their stuff in Spanish. Some of the OEMs have produced a lot of their things in Spanish for us, and that helps a lot, but we’re pushing them to try to get all of their stuff (in Spanish) and the computer side of it is where we see a real issue, because just about everything is going Internet-based now for all the manuals, technical bulletins, just about everything you need to work on a truck.”


Stuart says recent increases in bilingual packaging—from parts to training manuals—all helps.

“For the most part everybody now has a dual version of the basic and preliminary training stuff,” he says. “Certainly if you look at J. J. Keller’s catalog, they have the Spanish version. At TMC, we took that on six or eight years ago, bilingual training (manuals). The stuff is becoming more and more available, (but) that’s a challenge in itself, because not every English word is easily translated to Spanish. We are preparing for the future.”

Don Dew, executive director of special products at Automotive Service Excellence, says their goal is to better serve the emerging Spanish-speaking population by creating bilingual maintenance tests. He says the number of linguistically isolated technicians working in the U.S. is around 120,000.

“With immigration, you’ve got adults coming into this country who don’t speak English well enough, and the numbers and percentages got large enough where we couldn’t ignore it any more,” he says. “It’s a bridge to help these guys that are trying to take care of their families today.”

Dew says it is in the best interests of fleet managers to do what they can to ensure smooth communication for all their technicians, and providing avenues to learn English is always a good idea.

“Anything they can do to enable their employees to improve their English, the better off everyone will be,” he says. “Many shops are starving for quality technicians, and if they find one who doesn’t speak English, they’ll find ways to work around that—having someone who is bilingual who can work with them. But don’t allow that guy to continue to stay isolated—the number one thing is to do what you can to help the individuals develop their English skills, and there are some resources available.”

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