Language barriers can become on-the-job safety hazards. Removing those barriers is one of the goals that Mitzi Epstein, a technological systems analyst and community activist, is trying to achieve through her new language training center in Tempe called Custom Language Training.
“Our mission is to help people do their jobs better,” said Epstein, who also serves on the Kyrene Elementary School District governing board. “Especially safety.
“We have to be prepared with the specific language pieces they need for work, and we and our trainers need to listen to our participants very carefully.”
Epstein and her business partner, Carrie Dixon, a linguistic consultant who has set-up language training programs for a variety of clients, including IBM, Kodak, Honeywell and Motorola, hired 10 trainers who work mostly in the East Valley.
They teach classes at the training center office at 1 W. Elliot Road, Suite 111-A in Tempe and also go directly to work sites, where, for example, twohour classes can be and are given twice weekly.
“Many companies and employees avoid going to community colleges because it takes so much more time,” Epstein said. “Our on-the-job classes not only help teach the language, but we can use every day, on-site examples to emphasize a lesson.”
The company focuses on specifics such as “Spanish in the Greenhouse” which provides conversations about planting, cutting and trucks or “Customer Service Spanish,” which centers on questions about bills, payments and scheduling.
Materials are customized and include a glossary of frequently used words, phrases or even dialogues. Classes can be one-on-one or larger.
Epstein, who has managed projects for Citicorp Mortgage, Olin Corp. and the American Youth Soccer Organization, said the greatest demand in the East Valley for language learning classes is Spanish, especially in the construction industry.
“One of the first sentences you might learn in our class is — ‘The new hard hats are in the truck,’” Epstein said. “Or, ‘Los cascos nuevos están en la camioneta.’”
Classes are offered to English and Spanish-speaking employees at one of their larger clients, Jokake Construction Co., a Valley and statewide firm with headquarters at 5013 E. Washington St., Phoenix.
Anita Kalin, chief of Jokake’s Human Resource department, said safety is among the major reasons they hired Custom Language Training two months ago.
“But there are many other areas where being able to communicate is very important,” Kalin said. “Most of our construction workers start at 5 a.m. and they’re really too tired to attend night classes to learn a new language.
“We started our language program when more and more of our workers spoke only Spanish.” Spanish is not the only language that is in growing demand for learners.
“There’s a real need for Chinese cultural and language classes,” Epstein said. “Especially in the Valley where more companies are sending their employees to China and viceversa.”
Dixon, who is fluent in Spanish and German, formerly owned Corporate Language Solutions, but was forced to close the business after she developed progressive retinal disease, which left her legally blind. She was the Tempe Chamber of Commerce 1999 Businesswoman of the Year. “Mitzi and I found we were on the same page about using a training approach, namely one that targets a fairly narrow range of skills,” Dixon said. “We share a fascination with linguistics and the business cultures of different countries.”