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MU's Residential Life Goes Bilingual

Department to Teach Employees Spanish and English

July 24, 2007

Story Contact:  Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Latinos constitute the largest-growing minority population in the United States, and Spanish is becoming the second most widely spoken language, according to U.S. Department of Labor and census statistics. This can make communication in the workplace difficult and create conditions that are not safe. With the importance of workplace safety in mind, administrators in the Department of Residential Life at the University of Missouri-Columbia are hoping to bridge the language barrier between English- and Spanish-speaking employees and students.

A new program will provide Residential Life custodial staff, supervisors and administrators the opportunity to learn workplace Spanish for English speakers, or English for Spanish speakers. Partnering with the Adult Learning Center, employees will attend one-hour classes twice a week for 16 weeks to learn how to communicate on-the-job tasks and everyday life encounters. Department officials hope this will allow for better interaction with co-workers and students, increase safety and productivity and reduce turnover caused by an inability to communicate with supervisors.

“We started to get concerned how the language obstacle could affect safety for our employees and students, so we developed a program that would not only benefit employees, but also the community and MU,” said Frankie Minor, director of Residential Life. “By providing an equal opportunity for both our English-speaking and Spanish-speaking employees, we can learn from each other, and create a safer department.”

With about 25 employees in each of the two language programs, participants will learn how to give emergency directions, complete department forms, understand instructions for mixing chemicals and relay information to supervisors in their non-native language.

“We hope to bridge the gap between cultures, while at the same time increase safety throughout the department,” said Rosa Burmeister, training and development coordinator. “Not only do we have employees working with harsh chemicals and large machines, but there are hundreds of students, some with disabilities, living in our residential halls that we have to make sure we are looking out for, making it so important for our staff to communicate effectively.”

Residential Life also plans to supplement the classroom learning by providing language software and reading materials to add to the learning. In addition to translating the department's employee handbook into Spanish, many of the warning labels and forms also will be converted.