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ANAHEIM : City Workers Learn ‘Survival Spanish’

Raoul Ferreira scribbled on the chalkboard in the Anaheim Civic Center, warning his students to take good notes because he’s only going to tell them what they need to know.

Armed only with bilingual Spanish-English dictionaries, the group of students are told to look up the words for the phrases they need most: utility bill, job openings and “I’m here to trim your trees.”

The class of about 20 city employees are beginning to learn survival Spanish, a valuable skill in a city where more than a third of residents are Latino.

“I work at the front counter, where people come in looking for jobs, and it’s going to be a big help,” said Michel Botich, a Human Resources Department employee who has been struggling to help non-English speaking applicants for the last two years.

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Recreation Department workers have been lobbying for the city to offer Spanish classes to improve communications with the city’s growing Spanish-speaking population.

A few months ago, the first trial session proved to be such a success that the city decided to continue offering free classes to employees on an ongoing basis.

Classes are held twice a week from 10 a.m. to noon. In addition, the city Code Enforcement Department has set up its own classes, which workers are strongly urged to attend.

“It’s time we all wake up and realized that English isn’t the only language spoken,” said Brenda Parker, spokeswoman for the city Utilities Department. “It’s something we all have to adjust to.”

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With only one month to learn enough Spanish to get by, students say the fast-paced crash course leaves them all staggering a little as they return to work.

But even after one week of classes, employees say they are already benefiting from being able to respond to Spanish inquiries--even if only to direct Spanish-speakers to someone who is fluent in their language.

“It’s good just to be able to be polite,” said Nancy Lerner, a recreation services manager who helped organize the classes. “There’s such a real need.”


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