How Do You Say, ‘May I See Your License?’

LAFAYETTE, La.

Despacito. The echo followed — despacito — as some 18 Lafayette Parish sheriff’s deputies mouth the word — which means “slowly” — in Spanish for their instructor, Nancy Gomez.

Gomez asks for more commands — “You’re under arrest” — and calls on one of her students.

Esta arrestado, the deputy says and then changes the verb to its feminine form, which he would use if he were speaking to a female. For the past few weeks, these deputies have learned such nuances and more in the course aptly called Command Spanish. It teaches them basic commands to communicate with the Spanish speakers they encounter on the job.

The course was created to offer quick and relevant language skills. The style of instruction differs from how Gomez would typically teach Spanish.

The native of Chile holds a doctorate in education and master’s degrees in applied linguistics and library science. She now is an instructor at SLCC and certified as a Command Spanish instructor.

Until the course, deputies have had to “get by” with basic sign language or calling on the language skills of bystanders or deputies who do speak Spanish, said Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Capt. Kip Judice, patrol commander.

“With the increased Hispanic population that we’re seeing in Lafayette Parish, it’s vital that we’re able to communicate with these people,” Judice said.

Deputies recently finished the class, and Judice said the deputies who’ve completed the first class will help the Sheriff’s Office decide if it will continue the Command Spanish training or find another option.

South Louisiana Community College is providing the instruction for the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office. A grant from the Workforce Investment Board covered the training cost. The board funds training of workers who are underemployed to help them develop work skills, said Demetrius Glover, Workforce Investment Board planner.

The Louisiana Community and Technical College System is a licensed provider of the training with South Louisiana Community College and the Louisiana Technical College in Lafayette campus providing instruction.

Rather than take the typical conversational approach for beginners, the course teaches need-to-know commands that are specific to a profession. Courses are designed specifically for different trades such as construction, law enforcement, health care and others.

“In nursing, they’d learn phrases like ‘Are you in pain?’ ‘Have you gotten your medication?’” Gomez said.

So far, the college has offered two courses, according to Debbie Burkheiser, chief workforce training officer for the region’s technical colleges.

Dynamic Industries, an Acadiana area oil and gas service company, called on the Louisiana Technical College in Lafayette for the training.

“About 20 percent of our work force is Spanish speaking,” said Brandon Muffoletto, safety, health and environment coordinator with Dynamic Industries. “We decided it would be best to offer it to some of our employees. We had good reviews on it and our supervisors thought it helped.”

Some employees are able to assist with translations when needed, he said.

It’s the same at the Sheriff’s Office. Some deputies are fluent and act as translators when needed. But on routine traffic stops and patrol calls, a translator may not be readily available.

Deputies are finding the course helpful. The deputies learn more than “get out of the vehicle” or “are you a legal resident?”

Just as in other parts of Louisiana, some phrases take on different meanings depending upon where the speaker is from — that includes vulgarity and threats. Knowing inciting language is also a safety issue for the officers, Judice said.

“Before we would look at them and stare and try to use sign language,” said Deputy Clay Carter.

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