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Beyond Yo La Tengo: The Padres are teaching their employees Spanish

Mar 18, 2010, 12:15 PM EDT

Spanish book.jpgLots of teams teach English to Latin players. Not too many teach Spanish to the English speakers. The Padres do, however, and it seems like a great idea:

“It’s something I thought was important to make us efficient when
dealing with players when we’re going to the Dominican or with our
players who are just coming here and don’t have command of the English
language yet,” Smith said.

“It shows that as an organization that we’re making an effort
to reach out to these kids. Language is a major issue. I’m asking for
two hours a week for maybe nine hours this spring. It’s a beginning,
it’s a start. Our guys have been receptive to it.”

I’m sure there are some people out there who will drag out the tired old “well, they’re the ones coming to the U.S., so why should we learn their language” argument, but it’s dumb one so please don’t.

For one thing, team employees are more of a constant than any specific ballplayer is, so it makes sense that the former learn Spanish to communicate with a perpetually-changing cast of players rather than simply rely on the players learning English.

But beyond that it seems like the mere effort to teach Spanish would have some cultural/chemistry benefits. I stumbled through French and Italian for a few weeks once while traveling, and though I’m pretty sure I mangled it beyond recognition, the folks I spoke with usually appreciated the effort.  Sure, they laughed, and most of the time they saved me by speaking a much better English than I did their own language, but I think I got along better with everyone simply because I tried.

It may not be a significant thing, but given the relatively meager outlay of time in energy it takes to pick up some phrases and at least get your feet wet with a new language, even a modest uptick in team culture and morale would make the effort worth it, no?

  1. Jonny5 - Mar 18, 2010 at 12:32 PM

    This should help some of the players when they go to spansish speaking camps, yeah.
    Cuanto para sus hijas? Cuanto para su esposa? Hago una tonelada mas dinero que usted lo hace, asi que dejenos lo tienen. Cuanto?

  2. enough already - Mar 18, 2010 at 12:34 PM

    But it’s not an entirely dumb argument for the reasons you just mentioned. Plus, these guys have to talk to the US press. There have been complaints by English-speaking players about their Spanish-speaking teammates who duck cameras. They have to go to stores and with English-speaking people all the time in their day to day lives. We also have players from Asia and Europe in the league now. Some of those guys walk around with interpreters. But wouldn’t life be easier for them if they actually spoke English? Anyway, I’m not opposed to teaching the guys Spanish. Far from it, I think it’s a great idea. I just don’t think it’s fair to say all arguments for players coming here to learn English are dumb.

  3. Craig Calcaterra - Mar 18, 2010 at 12:40 PM

    I agree that it’s a very good idea for Spanish speakers to learn English when coming here to play. They should. I’m merely objecting to the notion that English speakers shouldn’t at least try to learn Spanish too. It’s not the most profound point in the world, I’ll admit, but I’ve heard so many people — usually older people — react in the most hostile manner at the idea of even being confronted with Spanish for the shortest of moments. The “why don’t they learn to speak English” thing is a common refrain. Thing is, they almost always are learning to speak English. Maybe we should try to meet them half way.

  4. IdahoMariner - Mar 18, 2010 at 12:44 PM

    this is awesome. and yes, it helps the team culture, so why not?
    You can drage out the tired argument against it, but the Padres are a business that wants its employees working at their peak. employees generally do that when they feel they are a welcome, valued part of the organization, and when they feel like they are “speaking the same language”, metaphorically, as their co-workers. How could it not help even more if they are literally speaking the same language?

  5. enough already - Mar 18, 2010 at 12:53 PM

    Since you outed me by name and everything, I should probably also mention that I speak French and Italian fluently. And I can’t get by pretty well in Spanish.

  6. Craig Calcaterra - Mar 18, 2010 at 12:59 PM

    EA: Um, sorry. I get and reply to comments via auto-generated emails, and those emails come to me with the names commenters put in the email field. I’ve gone back and deleted my reference to your first name.

  7. Smit - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    Dead on 100% accurate. Strait down to the other cultures at least respect those who try. Regardless of whether it ever works or not, you can at least enjoy the comfort of knowing you have done your part in trying to kill the ‘ignorant stupid American’ perception. Great post.
    What do you call a person who speaks 3 languages: Trilingual
    What do you call a person who speaks 2 languages: Bilingual
    What do you call a person who speaks 1 language: American

  8. Judi - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:01 PM

    If anyone saw the movie “Sugar” you would see that this is an excellent idea. These ballplayers definitely need and I’m sure want to learn english, but that can’t be done in a day and having spanish-speaking people in their clubhouse will make their lives alot easier while they are learning. Kudos to the Padres.

  9. enough already - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:03 PM

    It’s really ok. I’ve been jabbing you with a stick for the past 2 weeks. I kind of almost felt like I deserved it.

  10. Jonny5 - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:09 PM

    Who else but a team with a spanish name? “Fathers” ? Are you serious?

  11. Craig Calcaterra - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:09 PM

    No worries. I expect the jabs. Part of the job! And yours, while occasionally sharp, are always fair.

  12. YX - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:12 PM

    I’m not a fan of the fan of the “they should just learn English” argument. Not that they shouldn’t, but often the result is just not there.
    For those who has never seriously learned a second language, it is very hard, especially if you didn’t start at a fairly young age. Most Asian that I know who has fairly good English started before first grade, and my Dad who learned Russian during his days has been trying to study English for over 10 years with only limited result. Though English to Spanish is not as bad as English to Japanese or Chinese, it is not something you can do on a whim. The hardest part is not memorization or even grammar, it is the difference in basic logic structure. I can very easily express something in Chinese or English, but it is very hard for me to express something in Chinese then translate it into English or vice-versa, and I’d imagine there are similar problems with English-Spanish.
    I am a big fan of the captcha though: “suffering rage”

  13. Charles Gates - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:14 PM

    No relevant comment, just tought my recaptcha was ironic considering the subject: ‘diplomat suarez’

  14. enough already - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:15 PM

    Aw see, now you’ve done it. I’m blushing.

  15. KR - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:19 PM

    “Lots of teams teach English to Latin players.”
    ‘Romanes eunt domus’? People called Romanes they go the house?

  16. enough already - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:29 PM

    It’s not as hard from Spanish to English. They are closely related languages, have similar structures and a lot of cognates.
    Captcha: campers said

  17. gary - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    And so begins the reconquista.

  18. Jack Meoffer - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    I’m going to give you the tired old argument whether you like it or not that they (foregin born players) should be learning English and not the other way around. If American born players go overseas to play the teams there are not going to even come close to doing what the Padres are doing. Bobby Valentine learned Japanese during his years there. The Spanish players refuse to speak English or won’t learn because they simply don’t care. They have enough friends on the team so there is no need for them too.
    I’m getting sick of these self hating Americans caving in to this generation. For years new immigrants or workers made attmepts to learn English because it helped them communicate with others and helped them prosper. If a Spanish speaking player can sign a contract that pays him millions of dollars the least he can do with a few of those pesos is pay for some English speaking lessons.

  19. Craig Calcaterra - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:40 PM

    “I’m going to give you the tired old argument whether you like it or not that they (foregin born players) should be learning English and not the other way around. If American born players go overseas to play the teams there are not going to even come close to doing what the Padres are doing.”
    1. That’s a false dichotomy. There is nothing that says a person learning Spanish means that another person can’t learn English. Of course people who plan on working and living in a country for many years should learn the language. But that doesn’t mean that their employers shouldn’t try to learn a little of the employees’ language too.
    2. As for American players going overseas: English speakers on Japanese or Korean teams are a tiny, tiny minority, usually limited to one or two per club. Compare to US baseball teams on which there are several Spanish speakers at any given time, up and down the organization.

  20. Smit - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:48 PM

    Why… we pay them to come here and play baseball. It’s our decision. We bring them to a ‘free country’ where we purposely don’t have an official language. Who are you to say what the people we brought here to entertain us should and shouldn’t do. Maybe you should tell the team you are a fan of to not recruit any players that don’t speak english. See how that works for them. The hypocrisy is thick… very thick.

  21. Joey B - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:52 PM

    “What do you call a person who speaks 2 languages: Bilingual
    What do you call a person who speaks 1 language: American”
    Of course, all the people that speak two languages, almost always have English as their second language. There really aren’t a lot of reasons to even learn a second language. I studied French for three years, and I went to France for one day. I studied Spanish for one year, and when I used it in Mexico, at about the point where his ears were going to start bleeding, the guy interrupts me to ask if I could please speak to him in English. I’d have been much better off spending 1000 hours learning how to upgrade my house than learning a language I had no real use for.
    I’ve no objection to the Padres teaching their employees Spanish, but I seriously doubt anything will come of 9 hours of study over 5 weeks. At the end of the day, if you need someone to speak Spanish, then hire someone that can speak Spanish.

  22. Joey B - Mar 18, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    “What do you call a person who speaks 2 languages: Bilingual
    What do you call a person who speaks 1 language: American”
    I seem to have lost my response.
    The thing here is that, for most of the people that speak a second language, the second language is English, and usually for the same reason-money. Virtually every large business in the world is either American, with foreign subsidiaries, or foreign, but with American subsidiaries. Even if a Japanese company had European-only subsidiaries, the only way they could communicate would be if both parties spoke English.
    So the motivation to be bilingual in America is a fraction of what it is overseas. There are millions and millions of Americans that have studied French for 3-4 years, money and time that might be better off directed elsewhere. The number of Americans that really have to know French might be measured in the low thousands.
    It’s a waste of time and it’s a waste of money.

  23. Ron - Mar 18, 2010 at 2:57 PM

    I’ve lived in more countries than I can remember, and some most people have never heard of. Along the way, I’ve had to/tried to learn German, Arabic, Turkish, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Latvian and Afrikaans. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t so well in most of them. During this time, I’ve learned to order beer in 17 languages and offend women in 23, some of which I didn’t know I spoke until I got slapped.
    But I tried, becasue the logic that ‘evryone speaks English’ is false. They don’t. Try be stuck on a street at night in Luanda with bad Portuguese, and no one who speaks English beyond ‘Smith & Wesson’ around. It’s not fun, and then think about what it’s like for those guys to come to the states. Except most people can’t becasue they’ve never experienced it.
    People came to the United States as immigrants for the chance at a better life, not for Berlitz lessons. There is a reason we don’t have an official language. And as Spencer Tracy so famously said, “Language is a poor enough means of communication. We need to use all the words we have.”
    The point is, learing what little bit I could always made things go smoother, and if the locals could speak any English so much better. But a lot of times it ended up with my bad language skills and not actually shouting at them in an effort to teach them English in 30 seconds or less. Bugtussel is not the center of the universe and we have gone global. When I was a recruiter in LA, there were 37 diffeernt languages spoken in a 3-block radius. That was fun.
    The Padres should be applauded for what they are doing, and anyone who has an issue with this is part of the problem and not the solution. Freedom of speech as guaranteed by the constitiution didn’t specify English. It’s part of an employee transition program for a private employer. Jingoism isn’t relevant here.
    See, I’m not the right wing, conservative nut case some of you think I am.
    By the way, there are 5 universal words that are instantly recognized anywhere in the world, regardless of language.
    Dollar, beer, taxi, and 2 that can’t be repeated here, but they are both gender specific.

  24. Charles Gates - Mar 18, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    Very well stated.
    It is funny, in an ‘it’s not so funny sense of funny,’ that when people go out for dollar beers, they can’t seem to remember to call for the third most universally recognizable word: taxi.
    And for #4 and #5, my repaptcha is ‘rubdown set.’

  25. Joey B - Mar 18, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    “The Padres should be applauded for what they are doing, and anyone who has an issue with this is part of the problem and not the solution.”
    The thing is, there is no problem. They don’t need to speak English, and I don’t need to speak Japanese or Spanish. Of course, I am almost never inconvenienced by not knowing Japanese or Spanish, and that’s what it boils down to.

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