Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Miami and Los Angeles Can Be a Lesson for the First Coast. as the Hispanic Population Grows Here, So Does the Need for Learning Spanish as a Second Language. What We Might Have Is Failure to Communicate

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Miami and Los Angeles Can Be a Lesson for the First Coast. as the Hispanic Population Grows Here, So Does the Need for Learning Spanish as a Second Language. What We Might Have Is Failure to Communicate

Article excerpt

Byline: ANNE MARIE APOLLO

Rows of adult students are sitting in Northeast Florida classrooms after work, sounding out new words and phrases that will help them on the job and to communicate with the people around them.

They're learning a second language, but they aren't foreigners hoping to speak English. They're Floridians trying to learn Spanish.

Though the Jacksonville area doesn't have a Hispanic community to compare with the southern part of the state, the number of Spanish-speaking residents is on the rise. Blue Cross and Blue Shield trains hundreds of employees each year in the language and has still more on a waiting list. Spanish-speaking clubs and meet-up groups are on the rise as people try to prepare for a new population.

Some in Northwest Florida say they are wise to get ready.

Already there are American cities where it can be difficult to communicate day-to-day without speaking Spanish, said Enrique Barquinero, a professor at Florida Community College at Jacksonville.

"If you know a second language like Spanish, you are an asset to an employer," Barquinero said. "You are two people in one."

He said the community college's online courses, which he designed, fill almost instantly. Its professional development Spanish classes are in such demand that a more advanced course will be added next semester.

"There is such a demand, it's amazing," said Barquinero, who recently proved his point about the popularity of the language to his incredulous wife. On a trip to Los Angeles, he bet her it would be possible to use only Spanish there, from the airport and the cabs to shops along the way. Ten minutes in, she was a believer, he said.

Jacksonville is no Los Angeles.

But Barquinero said some may not realize how large the Spanish-speaking community already is.

Pay attention in a grocery store or in places where currency can be changed, he said. The numbers are growing.

According to the U.S. Census, from 2000 to 2005, Duval County's Hispanic population rose from 31,946 to 43,604.

That amounts to about 5 percent of Jacksonville's population.

The majority of that group, about 32,500 people, say they speak Spanish in their homes, according to the census.

Clay County had the second largest Hispanic population in the region, according to the 2005 count, growing approximately 30 percent in five years to 9,412.

It isn't necessarily customers here Jacksonville-area professionals need to communicate with, though.

Olmes Corrales, founder of the El Faro Language School in Jacksonville, counts among his customers Mayo Clinic, BellSouth and Blue Cross, where he estimates he's had upward of 240 students, with dozens more on a waiting list. They all want to learn Spanish.

It is not unusual for local firms to have to communicate with people in South Florida or Latin America, and for that, they often need a second language, Corrales said. …

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