For the past four years, Opus (formerly ESL Works) has been a leading provider of English training for employers in the food industry. We fundamentally believe that communication training supports a healthy workplace as well as healthy and productive work lives - and English as a Second Language is a meaningful first step toward that goal. I'm excited to announce that we have leveled up, once again, at Opus. We now offer Spanish training for managers! 🎉 I'd like to share why we developed this course and what makes it different.
The US is a multilingual country. It's no surprise that our workforce reflects this fact. The food supply chain employs a disproportionately high number of non-native English speakers. While data varies, our calculations amount limited English speakers to being anywhere from 25 to 30% of this workforce.
The best kept secret in the industry is that 1 in 3 employers already provides English training ("ESL") for their team. This isn't often advertised simply because employers see this training as a necessity, a means to increase communication and productivity. As one might train their workforce in any other form of functional knowledge, English training is an offering that's just good business.
But is it enough? The answer is subjective and for the purpose of keeping this article short, I'll spare you my rhetoric in language justice and simply share this: English Training (ESL) at work is one piece of the puzzle. Just as providing COVID training for your team is more valuable when you also offer PPE. When managers are learning Spanish while their team is learning English, the outcome is not only that you have a bilingual workforce, it is that you have built common ground.
According to census data (1), Spanish is the most spoken non-English language in the U.S. There are 41 million native Spanish speakers and about 12 million more who are bilingual Spanish speakers. That is 16% of the US population, which makes the US the the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. In case you're curious, the next most spoken languages that are not English or Spanish are Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, French and Tagalog (pronounced tah-GAH-log) in order from largest to smallest.
So why not other languages? Other languages are on our roadmap, but in this moment we focused on the highest language need for managers - Spanish.
Managers often tell us "If my team is learning English then I should learn Spanish." When we ask managers to tell us why they want to learn the language, the answers are reasonable and often pumped with a sentiment of language justice. We've found that managers want to learn Spanish in order to meet their team in the middle, as an act of solidarity.
In case you're worried that if more managers learn Spanish, then less frontline employees will learn English, I'd urge you to reconsider your point of view. When managers learn a language, they are building an atmosphere in which they can better coexist with their team. In that world, there is no language dominance, there is only common ground. While English is often meant to be the common language in a workplace, that does not mean that it should be dominant. There is a difference.
When English is dominant, it overpowers employee manuals, POS technology, learning management systems, and other forms of communication. When English is common, it is an expected default, but it does not exclude other languages. We do a lot at Opus to ensure that all of our users are getting training that is accessible to them. That often means providing it in their native language whether French or Khmer. When it comes to English training, we are not excluding the use of other languages, we are providing pathways to the same outcome - better, more connected workplaces where growth opportunities emerge for everyone.
Our approach to Spanish training for managers is not simply the opposite of English training for hourly employees. We often hear folks use the the term "SSL". While that is certainly a creative description (!), the term "Spanish as a Second Language" doesn't exist in the language training world! Linguistically speaking, those who speak a dominant language (English in this case) must get a unique form of training, not just the opposite.
Our Spanish training course teaches central American Spanish dialects to reflect the working population that the food industry largely employs. We are teaching all five skills: reading, writing, speaking, listening, and pronunciation. In addition, we've injected micro-lessons on words and phrases that might differ from one Spanish speaker to another. For example, "bus" to an employee from Mexico is "autobús". The same word for an employee from the Dominican Republic is "guagua". Our approach helps ensure that managers are communicating respectfully and equitably in Spanish.
The best part? It's all delivered over text message in daily 3-minute micro-lessons. Just like all of our training, we know that when employees and managers train in bite-sized pieces on an accessible platform, learning outcomes are achieved more quickly.
If you're interested in learning more about our newest course, please do schedule a demo. We'd love to show you what we've built and get your feedback.
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