As the number of Denver-area foreign and non-English-speaking residents continues to skyrocket, a language training company is breaking down language barriers between local medical professionals and their patients.
Mariano Descalzi, director of Bridge-Linguatec, said the Hispanic population has grown by nearly 75 percent in the last decade, and almost one-third of metro Denver’s population is foreign.
"We’ve had nurses come to us saying ‘We’re having a hard time communicating with the patients,’" Descalzi said. "Many of them took it upon themselves to want to learn the language because they knew that was the best way to do it."
Before the dramatic rise in foreign residents, isolated cases could be solved at hospitals by calling an interpreter or getting help from English-speaking children or relatives. These days, the demand for help with language barriers prompted Bridge-Linguatec to find out if the problem was affecting a lot of area medical facilities. The answer was clear.
"Everybody said they had some type of contact with people who didn’t speak English," Descalzi said. "Then there were different degrees – some maybe 20 percent depending on the neighborhood, and some it was 80 percent."
Bridge-Linguatec is trying to spread the word that there is an efficient solution.
"A lot of companies have this problem with language barriers, and they don’t know what to do with it. They just tell their people, ‘Go find a school and study on your own.’ That might not be the best way to do it," Descalzi said.
"Some people are starting to look at language training and having a budget for that – making it tax deductible for the company," he said.
Descalzi’s company offers specialized classes and onsite training for groups in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese and other languages. After learning the fundamentals, students can elect to take medical terminology, legal terminology or other advanced classes.
"If you can say ‘limb’ in Spanish, but you can’t complete the sentence, you can’t communicate. So you have to learn the basics and then you start moving into technical terminology," Descalzi said. "If we have nurses who are total beginners, if they just join a regular group class at first, once you reach a certain level then you can start looking at more technical terms."
The process isn’t instantaneous, he warns, but can be completed on a regular schedule.
"To handle general conversations, you need to be in the training for about 10 months. So if a company wants to do this right, we can tell them exactly what their budget will be on a monthly basis and how long it will take them. We have all the statistics, and we’ve been doing this for so many years that we know what they’ll need to do," Descalzi said. "We do a lot of consulting in that area, and we can break it down and show them how their investment is going to work."
Descalzi hails from Argentina, and has been in Denver for two years. The son of a diplomat, he went to high school in Canada, college in Houston and speaks English, Spanish, intermediate French and some Italian.
"When you travel and you can start using some of the languages, it just makes a huge difference," he said. "If you go to Italy or Rome, or wherever, and you’re in a cafe and you start ordering in Italian, people open up to you a lot more. It’s the same with France. It’s a blast."
He said traveling nurses or potential tourists might be interested in Bridge-Linguatec’s study abroad programs and satellite offices in Central and South America and Europe.
"That’s the fastest way to learn a language – if you go for a month or even two weeks," Descalzi said. "Everything’s in Spanish, you stay with a Spanish host family. What you learn in one month could take 10 months [in America]. You just learn so much faster. We do combinations with people studying here a couple months and then they go study abroad, and that’s how they start communicating in Spanish."
Even with the recession, attendance has been up at Bridge-Linguatec’s programs. Enrollment in the Spanish evening program through 10 months of 2003 was up almost 25 percent from last year, Descalzi said. More and more managers and professionals are realizing the value of language training.
"You build a trusting relationship with the patient if you can communicate their language," Descalzi said. "Sometimes, even if you’re not fluent, just the fact that you tried saying ‘Hola, como estas?’ or ‘Where does it hurt?’ in Spanish, then maybe you can’t have the full conversation with them in Spanish, but the people just open up to you because they say, ‘Wow, OK. They don’t think of me as less, or anything like that. They’re making an effort to speak my language.’"
For more information on Bridge-Linguatec’s programs, visit www.bridge-linguatec.com.
by Mike Liguori