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It could save your life.

About 13 percent of the state and federal inmate population is Hispanic, making it vitally important for officers to know how to communicate in Spanish. Correctional officers and probation and parole officers who take the time to learn what I call "Survival Spanish" can reduce the potential for a misunderstanding that could threaten or cost a life.

Officers who have mastered Survival Spanish have the ability to:

* commit to memory basic, succinct commands and phrases that can make the difference between a simple request and a deadly confrontation;

* promote their own safety and improve relations with offenders;

* ask an offender to point to an injury - especially important in cases involving neck or back injuries, where moving the offender might cause further injury;

* communicate in a polite manner to elicit cooperation and respect while diffusing potentially dangerous and escalating situations; and

* make people aware, through actions and speech, that the officer is fair and impartial.

I train many city, county, state and federal public safety professionals around the United States in Survival Spanish. At the start of my classes I ask the students if they know how to say "no" in Spanish. In a class of 35 students, normally three will raise their hands.

Next, I ask those who don't know to explain what they would say to a Spanish-speaking offender who reached for a weapon. Usually there is no response. I point out to the students that if they don't know how to say "no" in Spanish, they will have difficulty controlling this situation and other life-threatening situations. (Then I tell them that "no" in Spanish is the same as in English).

Other Keys to Communication

Officers should be aware that offenders born in other countries may have misconceptions about the American criminal justice system. The presumption of innocence is not part of many other judicial systems. Some offenders may be too timid to interact with those they perceive as outsiders and may fear all officers. Officers should recognize these fears and work to develop lines of communication with non-English speakers.

Hispanic inmates often are highly cohesive. Rumors of problems or unfair treatment by an officer are perceived to affect the entire Hispanic prison population. Officers who make an effort to work constructively with these inmates will enhance their effectiveness. Understanding the inmates' cultural perspective can increase an officer's personal safety when tension escalates.

Administrators frequently tell me they have a Spanish-speaking officer available to translate for other officers if the need arises. If one is not available, one can be called in or a telephone translation service can be used. I point out to them that an officer cannot always wait for another officer to arrive to command an offender to drop a weapon or stop talking. Having Spanish speaking officers available is not a viable solution to the problem - adequate preparation is.

Key Spanish Words

Here are some common Spanish words and phrases (with pronunciations in parentheses) all correctional personnel should know:
Spanish English
Hola (OH-lah) Hello
Venga aqui (VEHN-gah ah-KEE) Come here
Gracias (GRAH-see-ahs) Thank you
De nada (day-NAH-dah) You're welcome
En que puedo servirlo? May I help you?
(Ehn kay PWAY-doh sair-BEER-loh)
Como se llama? (COH-mo say YAH-mah) What is your name?
Puede leer? (PWAY-day lay-AIR) Can you read?
Puede escribir? (PWAY-day ES-cree-beer) Can you write?
Enseneme su... (Ehn-SEHN-yay-may soo) Show me your...
Entiende? (En-tee-EN-day) Do you unerstand?
No se mueva! (No SAY moo-AY-vah) Don't move!
No hablar! (No ah-BLAR) No talking!
Manos arriba! (MAH-nos ah-REE-bah) Hands up!
Sigame (SEE-gah-may) Follow me
Vaya alli (VAH-yah ah-YEE) Go over there
Dejeme ver las manos Let me see your hands
(DAY-hay-may bair lahs MAH-nohs)
Parese aqui (PAH-ray-say ah-KEE) Stand here


Spanish Slang

Officers also need to learn Spanish slang. Offenders' use of these words often is an early indication that an encounter is progressing poorly. Officers should keep in mind that the slang phrases used by inmates are always changing and that a number of Spanish dialects based on national origin exist.

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Robert L. Dent is the author of The Complete Spanish Field Reference Manual for Public Safety Professionals and a senior trooper with the Oregon State Police. For information on Spanish language training, manuals and audio learning tapes, contact him at P.O. Box 6415, Bend, OR 97702; 1-800-776-1950.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:learning Spanish
Author:Dent, Robert L.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:715
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