How to Communicate With Spanish-Speaking Workers

March 29, 2017 Rieva Lesonsky

Does your field services business employ workers whose first language is Spanish? In many industries and parts of the country, some of the most qualified workers for businesses that do contracting, plumbing, house cleaning or similar work speak little or no English. No worries: Even if your current knowledge of Spanish is limited to the menu items at your favorite Mexican restaurant, you can still work successfully with primarily Spanish-speaking employees. Here's how.

  1. Know the laws that apply to your business. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations require that Spanish-speaking employees receive safety training and information in Spanish. Fortunately, the OSHA website has plenty of resources you can use to make this easier.
  2. Learn some Spanish. You and other English-speaking employees should take the time to learn some basic Spanish words and phrases, focusing on those that are relevant to your particular field services business.
  3. Help them learn English. Investigate and suggest local adult education courses in English that workers might want to take. Try to be flexible with their schedules so they can accommodate these classes. When speaking to Spanish-speaking workers in English, use simple words and phrases, and try to avoid slang that might be confusing. If you have some employees who serve as “translators,” speaking both English and Spanish, make sure they use English whenever possible to help the Spanish speakers learn.
  4. Take a team approach. One easy workaround for employees with limited English skills is to have employees go to job sites in teams. Pair an English-speaking employee who also knows Spanish with a Spanish-speaking employee with limited English. The English speaker can interact with the customer and then translate to the Spanish speaker, who can focus more on the actual work. By watching and listening, the Spanish speaker will gain new language skills with every job.
  5. Think visual. Drawings, diagrams or blueprints can show employees what’s needed even if they don’t speak English very well. You and your English-speaking employees can also demonstrate or pantomime steps in a process for Spanish-speaking employees.
  6. Verify their understanding. Spanish-speaking workers might be too proud to admit they don’t understand you, so they may nod or otherwise act like they know what you’re saying. Ask questions (with the help of an English/Spanish speaker) to make sure they really understand, especially as it relates to important safety procedures.
  7. Enjoy the benefits of bilingual employees. Depending on your local market, having Spanish-speaking employees on your staff can be a huge benefit. For example, if you don't speak Spanish but there is a large Spanish-speaking customer base in the area, having Spanish-speaking employees you can send out to these jobs can be a big selling point.

With a little extra thought, effort and sensitivity, both you and your Spanish-speaking employees will benefit from the relationship — and so will your business.

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