Spanish Language Translations Bolster Foreign-Born Worker Safety

According to a 2012 study by the National Center for Farmworkers Health, the majority of farmworkers in the US and Canada are foreign-born and most of those workers, primarily from Mexico, speak little or no English. Foreign-born workers face a wide variety of workplace hazards, many of which are exacerbated by a lack of Spanish-language safety instruction.

Migrant Workers


Nearly 8,000 Mexican farmworkers migrate to Ontario each year as seasonal laborers. Many of these farmworkers come from agricultural backgrounds, which gives them a head start on Canadian farms. However, the language barrier can be a serious issue, particularly when it comes to worker safety. In response to this issue, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS), with support from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and the Canadian federal government, has created a series of farm safety training tools in English and Spanish . A central tool in this series is a video called Orientation for Seasonal Workers in the Agricultural Industry. The 18-minute bilingual video demonstrates essential field safety practices. WSPS agricultural program manager Dean Anderson says “visuals can be helpful when language is a problem, making video an important medium for teaching and learning.”


United States

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a department of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), reported that “immigrant workers face a disproportionate risk for workplace injury and illness.” NIOSH sites the language barrier as a major contributor to this disproportionate risk. To combat this issue, NIOSH sponsored a number of programs, including launching a Spanish language website, translating several NIOSH publications into Spanish, and proposing a National Academy of Science workshop to improve Spanish-language occupational safety and health materials. NIOSH also initiated an innovative partnership with Spanish-language TV network Telemundo to incorporate a workplace safety storyline into the popular series “Pecados Ajenos.” NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. said “this is a pioneering effort in combining education and dramatic entertainment to reach a large, Spanish-speaking audience with the important message that work-related injuries are serious but preventable, and moreover, to present the message in a culturally and dramatically meaningful way.”




In Some Jobs, Foreign Language Proficiency Can Mean The Difference Between Life And Death

A wide variety of industries benefit from multilingual employees.  Education, finance, social services, hospitality, and travel all need team members with foreign language skills. However, for certain jobs, the stakes are higher and foreign language proficiency is critical to safety and health.




911 Operator

According to the New York Daily News “Spanish-speaking New Yorkers who call 911 in an emergency have to spend almost twice as much time on the phone to get help as English speakers.” This is because only roughly 3% of New York City’s 911 operators speak fluent Spanish, so hundreds of emergency calls per day from Spanish speakers must be redirected to translation services across the country. Transferring and translating these calls takes time, and in an emergency situation, precious minutes often mean the difference between life and death. Large cities receive emergency calls in hundreds of languages and dialects, so diverse langue skills are in high demand and critical to emergency dispatch operations.


Emergency Room Physician

A study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine International Journal investigated “errors of medical interpretation and their potential clinical consequences.” The study compared 57 encounters: 20 with professional interpreters, 27 with ad hoc interpreters, and 10 with no interpreters. Lead researcher Dr. Glenn Flores, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas told Reuters that “interpreter errors of potential clinical consequence are significantly more likely to occur when there is an ‘ad hoc’ or no interpreter, compared with a professional interpreter.”

On an episode of NPR’s Morning Edition, certified medical interpreter Helen Eby highlighted the hazards of imprecise interpretation with the story of a young Spanish speaker who was brought to the ER in a coma. According to Eby, “his family apparently used the word ‘intoxicado’ to talk about [him]. ‘Intoxicado’ in Spanish just means that you ingested something. It could be food; it could be a drug; it could be anything that has made you sick.” The patient was thus initially diagnosed with a drug overdose, but the coma was actually brought on by bleeding in his brain. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done and he “ended up quadriplegic,” according to Eby.


Military Translator

Military translators are indispensable around the world and have recently made headlines for their hugely important and dangerous work in Iraq and Afghanistan. An Iraqi translator code named “Johnny Walker” is the focus of a New York Times best seller about his work with SEAL teams in Iraq. Walker served over 1,000 missions with his SEAL team and according to infamous sniper Chris Kyle, Walker “saved more SEALs and Iraqis than I did.”

The story of an Afghani translator who risked his life working with the US military was recently featured on John Oliver’s program “Last Week Tonight.” Mohammed, the translator whose last name has been redacted for his security, was forced to flee Afghanistan after aiding the US. According to the Huffington Post, “Mohammad is just one of tens of thousands of Afghans who risked their lives to accompany troops on dangerous patrols, find out about imminent attacks and warn them of planted improvised explosive devices (IEDs).”

Workplace English Proficiency

Workplace English proficiency in the US is a growing challenge for businesses and employees. A 2014 Brookings Institute report revealed that “19.2 million [working age adults in the US] are considered limited English proficient (LEP), comprising almost 10 percent of the working-age population” and those workers “earn 25 to 40 percent less than their English proficient counterparts.”  The majority of LEP workers are concentrated in manufacturing and accommodations/food services, industries that require workers to not only understand customers and other employees, but also interfaces and instructions on a wide variety of machinery.

Brooking Institute LEP Graph

According to a 2012 Chicago Sun-Times article, Oakton Community College in the Chicago suburbs has addressed the issue of LEP employees in manufacturing by offering “an online dictionary to students in certain manufacturing classes” as well as encouraging LEP manufacturing students to enroll in ESL courses. “The idea is to offer the online aids to students taking all sorts of manufacturing classes, from robotics to electronics to hydraulics” said Robert Sompolski, Oakton’s dean of mathematics and technologies.

In 2013, McDonald’s won the National Journal’s honor for innovative workforce training programs, due to their “English Under The Arches” program. The program provides ESL training for promising employees who could be on the management track if they had stronger English skills. According to the National Journal, the honor was awarded to the program because “it directly confronts the critical challenge of equipping a more diverse workforce to maximize its talents at a time when minority communities are poised to contribute the vast majority of America’s future workers.”

McDonald’s “English Under The Arches” Stats:
– 44 locations nationwide offer the program
– 2,500+ have graduated
– 91 percent graduation rate
– 84 percent go up at least one level on an English-proficiency assessment
– 95 percent increase their wages
– 88 percent stay on a year after finishing the class
– 84 percent stay on at least two years after finishing the class

Oakton Community College and McDonald’s are part of a growing movement to improve the English language skills of LEP workers. To serve this need, Multilingual Connections offers several levels of English instruction. Our introductory English courses focus on job related tasks including customer service and safety. Our advanced English sessions build confidence through reading and writing proficiency, accent modification, and more.

To find our more about our ESL program, please visit

America Reimagined Watches the Clock on America’s Minority Majority Shift

According to the U.S Census, America is on track to become a “Minority Majority” country between the years 2008 and 2050 and thanks to America Reimagined, we can all watch our evolving population as it shifts from one State to the next. The site, powered by consumer tracking service EthniFacts challenges the U.S Census timeframe by displaying ticking time clocks that countdown to when a State will be populated by a majority multiethnic population. The result is a fascinating info-graphic of how quickly America is diversifying and how swiftly we all must work to catch-up as both neighbors and professionals.

The web-hosted tipping point is calculated by using the Interethnic Proximity Index (IPI), a proprietary algorithm that takes into account “multiracial populations, intermarried couples, mixed households, and residence location among other factors”  to provide a by-the-numbers indication of multicultural influence in American society. Among all of its fascinating indicators, EthniFacts states that the “CultureEdge Countodown Clock” shows how the “multi-ethnic and multi-racial influence is coming faster, and goes much deeper and wider than U.S. Census projections.”

Whether you’re a business owner, sales person, teacher, or doctor, the rapidly-changing face of America cannot be ignored. The need for work place language training, cultural understanding workshops, translations, and transcription services is on the rise and we are here to help you along the way. For more information about our business training and services, browse or Corporate Training page.

Four Japanese Artists to Watch

On Saturday August 23rd, Multilingual Connections is teaming-up with the Chicago Japanese Language Meetup Group to host an exhibit and demonstration from four renowned Japanese artists at our studio space in West Bucktown. The artists, who are in Chicago for the Ginza Matsuri Festival, will demonstrate their process during the open house. Mediums include calligraphy, ceramics, doll visuals, and space design. 

We are proud to introduce the artists and welcome them to our community of language learners and culture lovers. Here’s a peak of their lives and work:

1.) Daisaku Ueno


Daisaku was born and raised in Hokkaido, Japan and still lives and works there.  He employs a firing process called ANAGAMA to create mainly ceramic pieces and uses natural, raw materials such as mud, wood, bamboo, stone, and water to make carvings and sculptures. During outdoor exhibitions, he gathers natural materials from the setting to create performance sculptures and carvings. Daisaku also hosts workshops and other events at art schools throughout Japan.  In the future, he hopes to be able to hold many more outdoor performances across the world.


2.) Natsuki Kubo


Born in Hokkaido, Japan, Natsuki started calligraphy at the age of seven. In 2009, she began to actively create and pursue her own style. She has experience with a variety of brush design for products, businesses, movie titles as well as her own live performances and solo exhibitions. Natsuki’s work has appeared on countless wedding announcements and specialized naming cards for children. When’s she’s not hard at work on her artwork, she is busy hosting workshops and events in an attempt o build community between people and caligraphy– in a way that is all her own.


3.) Akemi Kai

Kai Inspired by German artist Hans Bellmer, Akemi began making dolls in 1985. Three years later, the Hokkaido native was featured in a number of solo exhibitions across Japan in the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, Sapporo and Obihiro. After a decade of dedication to her craft as a sculptor, one of Akemi’s works was selected to be part of the collection of the Hokkaido Obihiro Museum of Art in 1999. The artist’s work utilizes performance and the female form often through a sculpted image of a life-sized doll. In one instance, Akemi used her own frame as the model for a doll. In the future, Akemi aims to continue working in porcelain and creating life-sized dolls.




4.) Masanori Umeda


Born and raised in Obihiro (Hokkaido, Japan), Masanori painted throughout his teen years. In 1990, he won both the Best Special Award and the Ikko Tanaka Award in the Amnesty Poster Graphics Competition. From 1993 to 2008, he held the Inspirational Award at Liquitex Biennial. His solo exhibition, “Tokachi New Generation Series X (10)” was displayed at the Hokkaido Obihiro Museum of Art in 2007. At the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, he presented his installation “Hokkaido 3D Expression Exhibit”. Masanori’s works have become part of the Hokkaido Obihiro Museum of Art’s collection; he has also been commissioned to create pieces for Amnesty International Japan and donated pieces to display around Obihiro for the Obihiro Contemporary Art Exhibition Secretary General. In the future, he hopes to showcase his works in many locations and wishes for many to stand before them.


Reserve your spot at this complimentary community exhibit by visiting Multilingual Connections RSVP page.

Pro Tip: Avoid these Hand Signs when Traveling Abroad

In honor of the Holiday travel season, we thought it best to share Mental Floss’ list of hand signs to avoid while traveling abroad.

1.) “Thumbs-Up!”: this popular American gesture is no good when delivered in parts of Latin America, West Africa, Iran, and Sardinia. Rather than a sentiment of “good job” the thumbs-up can be interpreted as a hateful gesture similar to flipping someone the bird.

2.) The “Peace” Sign: it is important to be mindful of which way your palm is facing the party you’re directing peace/the number 2 towards. In the UK, flashing a peace sign with your palm facing yourself can be interpreted as something sour by your new cohort. As the article warns, “if you’re ever in a pub and want to order a pair of drinks, don’t flash the bartender two fingers. You might accidentally order yourself a knuckle sandwich”.

3.)The “OK” Sign: known in the United States to mean something along the lines of “got it!”, in the Middle East, Germany, and Turkey, this hand signal can mean anything form a violent threat to telling someone “you’re a jerk”.

4.) “Sign of the Horns” (aka the “Rock On”): Who knew? In the middle ages, the “horn” were signaled towards men with cheating wives. Today, it is still unfavorable to don hand horns when in Caucuses, Italy, Greece, or Spain. Perhaps you should skip the heavy metal show while you’re there?

5.) An Open Palm: According to Mental Floss, in Greece, an open-handed hello can be considered disrespectful due to centuries-old practices of the Byzantine Empire used to shame criminals.

Be careful out there! When in doubt, keep your hands to yourself. If you’re heading to a foreign country this coming year for business or pleasure and are in need of an orientation or refresh of the language, consider signing-up for one of Multilingual Connections’ courses for adults. 

Seven Heavenly Facts about Nutella


This coming year, Multilingual Connections will once again be hosting a World Nutella Day Party at our beautiful new West Bucktown/Logan Square offices. Not to rush through the good ol’ Holidays but we are getting excited to host our community members, customers, and some delectable local vendors over to help us celebrate our favorite snack.

Here are some fun facts* about the heavenly hazelnut spread that really does taste good on anything:

1.) In one day of production, the amount of Nutella made worldwide weighs nearly three times the amount of the Statue of Liberty

2.) The number of Nutella jars sold in one year could span the circumference of the moon four times

3.) Nutella was first imported from Italy to the U.S. in 1983– the first American market to receive the European breakfast favorite was the North East

4.) Worldwide, one jar of Nutella is sold every 2.5 seconds

5.) Around the time it began to become popular in Italy in the 1960’s, Italian markets began to offer free “smears” of Nutella to children who brought their own pieces of bread. The marketing strategy was known as “The Smearing”

6.) In 2009, Nutella boasted the third most “Likes” on Facebook right behind President Barack Obama and Coca-Cola.

7.) More than 70 million hazelnuts are used worldwide each day in the production of Nutella


*Facts compiled from articles on,, & the LA Times Food Blog

Study Shows: Messy Eating Makes For Language Acquisition in Toddlers

Have you heard the word? According to a study conducted by psychologists at the University of Iowa, children learn “messy” words associated with semi-solids and liquids better by, you guessed it, getting grubby in their high chairs. In general, children acquire the words for stationary, solid objects at a faster rate than they do liquid-like substances.

In an article posted on, the science is explained: “The reason seems to be that nonsolids aren’t as consistent as solids. Dogs stay dog-shaped, but glue can be in a bottle, in a blot on a piece of paper, or smeared all over the walls and floor.” This consistency leads to child developing the ability to identify stationary objects faster than they acquire recognition of things that come in many forms like say, sphagetti sauce.

The study concluded that children who get “down and dirty” in their high chairs were able to identify the composition of the substances they were playing with better than those who were restrained from making art with their food.

Learning the Family Language in a Classroom

Earlier this Fall, NPR’s Code Switch blog reported a story we often hear from our language students at  Multilingual Connections. For many Americans, learning the native language of one’s family does not occur organically at home  but rather in a classroom after one has grown and perceived a rift from their heritage.

“The desire to reinforce ethnic identity through language is a feeling that I and many other first-, second- and third-generation Americans understand well,” states the author of the article, Nayda Faulx. The author’s mother is half-Palestinian and grew-up in Lebanon, but did not speak her native language of Arabic with her American-born daughter. Faulx writes, “I’ve never felt entirely comfortable identifying as an Arab, at least not compared to my cousins who grew up in the Middle East.”

The phenomenon is called “Heritage Language Learning” according to the Center for Implied Linguistics.

Faulx’s report compares her own desire to attend Arabic language classes to that of a 25 year-old woman named Danielle Alvaraz who learned only basic Spanish words and phrases from her Mexican-born father while growing up.

Both Faulx and Alvaraz, reported that their experiences interacting with bilingual family members, specifically with their respective cousins, strengthened their desires to connect more with their roots. If you or a member of your family is interested in learning your Heritage Language, now is the perfect time as our 8-week Romance/Specialty Language courses are 50% off through December 10th.

The Universality of “Huh?”

Our thanks go out to Jennifer Schuessler for bringing our attention to a linguistic study about the universality of the word “Huh”.  Such a small word, but so useful – apparently not only to speakers of English, but to speakers of the 31 languages they examined.

Though “Huh?” may perhaps seem like a trivial word, authors Mark Dingemanse, Francisco Torreira and Nick Enfield argue that it is in fact an indispensable linguistic device in human communication.  Many human sounds that are universal are innate – like sneezes and cries – but “Huh?” is a word, integrated into the linguistic systems the authors studied and learned over time.

For more details and a quick video of “Huh” in ten languages, click here.

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