how can I convince my boss I don’t speak Spanish, bad connections on phone interviews, and more

It’s five short answers to five short questions. Here we go…

1. What’s the etiquette of asking to extend interview travel?

I recently had a phone interview for a job across the country, and at the end, the interviewer mentioned he’d be asking HR to get in touch with me to arrange for an in-person interview. Assuming they pay for the travel, would it be acceptable to ask them to schedule flights so that I’m in the city for a few days extra, say for a weekend? (I’d arrange for my own accommodation and other expenses for any extra nights, of course.)

On one hand, it makes sense to me that they’d want me to have a chance to check out some of the city before taking a job that requires moving – for example, the interviewer gave me a list of reasons he loves the city. On the other, I certainly don’t want to come across like I’m asking them to fund my vacation! So – is this a done thing or a total no-no?

If it matters, I’m young, single, and in an industry where it’s fairly common to move for work.

Yes, this is definitely done. You’d make it clear that you’d pay for any additional costs that it might add, of course, and by framing it as wanting to get a sense of the city makes it clear that you’re not just looking for a free vacation. Usually people just say something like, “I’d like to take the chance to check out the city while I’m there since this would be a move for me. Could we book the return flight for Monday instead of Friday? I’ll handle my own accommodation for the extra nights, of course.”

2. When you have a bad connection on a phone interview

My husband had a phone interview a few days ago. The quality of the connection via the conference call software was very poor, and he could hardly hear the interviewers on the other end. (He’s pretty sure it was a problem with their system, as this issue has only arisen with this conference call, no other calls.) One option is to ask to retry the call, but you don’t want to come across as difficult or incapable with technology to an employer, and what if hanging up and dialing in again doesn’t improve things? The other option (trying your best to hear) seems quite dangerous and likely to backfire though! What do you suggest should be done in this situation?

When it’s a truly poor connection, it’s reasonable to say, “We seem to have a bad connection and I’m having difficult hearing. Could we try hanging up and redialing to see if that fixes it?” That doesn’t come across as difficult or technically inept; it comes across as a person who would like to hear! (After all, if a colleague made this request of you on a conference call, would you think anything of it? No, you would not.)

But if you try that and it doesn’t fix the problem, then you have to judge how much of an obstacle it is. If you can hear okay, just not optimally, you might choose to continue at that point. But if you can’t, you don’t really have much choice — you have to speak up and explain it and hope that they’ll suggest an alternative (which they should).

3. How can I convince my boss I don’t speak Spanish?

I work at a small nonprofit organization doing direct service work with families involved in child protection and/or department of corrections. I started this job about 4 months ago and I have been very happy with the work that I am doing. However, recently, my supervisor assigned me to a family that speaks only Spanish. My boss knows that I am half Hispanic and that I speak some Spanish, but I have been clear that I am not fluent and that I just don’t have the professional vocabulary I would need. Despite expressing my concerns, my supervisor has told me to move forward with this family anyway.

I am extremely worried that I will not be able to communicate effectively with this family and may even end up doing more harm than good. ( I have spoken with the county worker who referred the family, but I haven’t met with the family yet.) There is no one else in my program who speaks Spanish who they could be transferred to and an interpreter is not an option. As far as I know, none of my coworkers have been asked to work with non-English speakers. I even wonder if my supervisor believes me when I say that I am not fluent, due to my heritage and last name.

How can I explain that this really will not work for me without being brushed off again or risking being let go (since I am not yet past my 6 months probationary period)? Should they even be able to ask me to work with this family if I have made it clear that I don’t have the professional vocabulary necessary to do so? Do I need to think about filing some sort of complaint?

Go back to the county worker who referred the family, explain that you aren’t fluent in Spanish, and confirm that that will indeed be a huge problem (as it sounds like it will be). Then go back to your boss and say this: “I spoke with the county worker, who was very clear that this family needs to work with a fluent Spanish speaker and that I am not suitable for that. My Spanish vocabulary is minimal. The county worker and I agree that having me try to talk with them could do more harm than good.” If your boss continues to push it, you might explicitly say that you’re concerned that your heritage is misleading him about your language skills, but that you are no more equipped to speak Spanish than most of your coworkers.

If your boss doesn’t back off, it’s worth escalating this (see the advice here on how to do this) because of the discrimination issues that a reasonable person would have to suspect were in play.

4. Explaining a preference to be based in one city over another when applying for a job

I received a request for an interview for a project management position I applied to recently. The company is headquartered in a large town in Iowa, but I want to be based in their satellite office in Chicago (real locations changed).The job description says, “This position is preferably based in Iowa but the successful candidate might be based in the Chicago office.”

How should I state my preference to be in Chicago? What would you consider valid reasons to want to be based in the satellite office besides simply not wanting to live in Iowa?

If you’re currently living in or near Chicago, that’s an obvious one. Otherwise, any kind of roots in Chicago (friends, family, having gone to school there, etc.). But absent there, it’s perfectly okay to simply state that your preference in Chicago; if asked about it, you can say that you prefer to be in a city or whatever else is true.

That said, be aware that their wording signals that their default is likely to be to place you in Iowa; you’ll want to approach it with an understanding of that, and an awareness of why that might be the case.

5. Manager wants six weeks notice of time-off requests

I just got hired for a job. I asked the day I filled out the paperwork how long I’d have to give notice to request a day off. I asked if two weeks would be okay. The manager laughed and said six weeks notice.

Is it just me or is that a little ridiculous? Two weeks is a courtesy thing. I never know ANYTHING that i’m doing six weeks ahead of time! Even doctor’s appointments; they’re usually a week or two ahead. How on earth is that fair? And how do you not inform a person of this before they get hired?

I understand that people book me for appointments (I am a wax specialist), but if I have a court date or ANY type of car trouble, how can I tell her six weeks ahead that I need to get my car fixed? If I knew how ridiculous that rule was, I wouldn’t have even taken the job! I am planning a vacation to California next month. I don’t have the dates officially set yet. I had to make up a week that i’d be gone and I don’t even know if those are the days I’ll be going. This is beyond stupid.

Does she mean six week notice for all time off, or just for something like a pre-planned vacation? If it’s for everything, including things like doctor’s appointments, then yes, that’s ridiculous. And it’s frustrating, because it’s hardly something you’d think to ask about before accepting an offer.

But is it possible that she doesn’t mean that you have to schedule sick days or car trouble in advance and that those are  handled when they come up? If she’s only taking about pre-planned vacations, it’s not totally unreasonable. (On the California thing, for instance, many workplaces would expect to you to provide more than a month’s notice that you were taking a week off, and especially in a job where they might be booking customer appointments that far out, so that part of it isn’t crazy.)

{ 146 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    OP #2 We get “bad lines” on our land lines at work. I definitely have called into a conference call and had to hang up and dial again because the first was all static-y. It would be embarrassing to ask on an interview, but around my parts, it’s not unusual for someone to say, “My line is bad, I have to call back in.” I guess if it’s the interviewer’s line, that’s harder.

  2. Lacey

    #5, It seems actually quite reasonable if she’s talking about a holiday, that you’d give her a decent amount of notice – 6 weeks sounds fine to me. If you’re dealing with customers who have booked appointments, its not like some jobs where if someone is away the work just stacks up for their return. Your manager needs someone there, and 6 weeks gives her time to plan a replacement.

    A day of sick leave obviously can’t be planned, but if I were planning a vacation next month, I’d be talking to my boss well before I paid for any flights to make sure it was going to be possible. And I don’t think I’d have much ground to stand on if she said no.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      Completely agree. Consider it from your customer’s perspective. I typically book my wax appointments a month in advance, and the salon tells me if the person I see regularly isn’t going to be there so I can see someone else or reschedule. I’d be annoyed to get a phone call saying that *after* I’ve already scheduled the appointment, or worse, arrive and be told “Jane’s on vacation, so Joan is covering.” (Although of course if I arrive and they tell me, “Jane has the flu, would you mind seeing Joan instead?” I’m not annoyed.)

      OP, if your boss truly means you have to schedule ALL time off 6 weeks in advance, that’s unreasonable — of course you cannot schedule being sick or having car issues — but if she means schedule all preplanned vacations that far ahead, I think that’s perfectly reasonable.

      1. HR lady

        My hairdresser tells me months (2 months? maybe 3 months?) in advance when she’s going on vacation. I always wondered why; it’s not like I can’t delay my haircut by a week or whatever, but she has told me that her clients get pretty annoyed if they want to schedule an appointment when she’s on vacation. And in the 10 years that I’ve been going to her, I don’t think she’s ever once called me to say she had to reschedule me because she’s going on vacation (or taking a day off, or whatever).

        1. HR lady

          #5 – Also, my friend’s husband works for the federal government, and I think he has to schedule his vacations SIX MONTHS in advance. I don’t know all of the details, but he often chose which week he would be on vacation many months ahead of time (even before he had actually made any plans for what to do that week). Not sure if that’s true for everyone in the federal government, or just people with his job or in his agency.

          1. Elaine

            Definitely not generally true of federal jobs. Could just be his office needs year-round coverage…

          2. Catherine

            I’ve known several people in certain government and non-government jobs who, in their respective workplaces, all had to request vacation time during a certain period for the upcoming year. Requests are then assigned by seniority preference (i.e.,if one of your first-choice weeks was requested by someone with more seniority, then you’re getting your second or third choice). This system is not uncommon for blue-collar jobs, especially union ones, that involve work that has to be kept moving every day.

            The OP’s situation is a different one, but I think six weeks sounds totally reasonable there. Appointments already made should be kept if at all possible. It’s bad for coworkers and bad for business if someone makes a habit of trying to reschedule.

    2. Another Anon

      Totally agree.

      And to the OP’s question: “And how do you not inform a person of this before they get hired?” Probably because YOU didn’t ask. Common sense would also dictate that YOU would have already mentioned during the interview/hiring process that you have a trip to CA planned for shortly after your intended start date. Your indignance is out of line.

  3. Kate

    re: #3 unless the OP’s family came from Spain, her heritage isn’t Spanish, it’s Cuban or Mexican or Nicaraguan or Argentinean or etc. Love, your nitpicky reader Kate, who is the only Spanish speaker in her office and is constantly pointing this out to coworkers

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      That is actually a pet peeve of mine because I think it sounds incredibly uneducated when people use “Spanish” to mean “from Latin America,” so I’m not sure how it ended up in the post, but I’ve corrected it. (My husband is half Spanish — as in half from Spain — so possibly it is on my mind. But his other half is Mexican so who knows what explains it.)

      1. JLo

        The correct term is Hispanic, meaning Spanish speaking. Latin could be anybody that speaks any language that comes from the Latin language: Portuguese, Italian, Spanish/Castillian, French, and Rumanian. That is what I know so far.

          1. E

            Yes, a lot of Latinos get upset about being called Hispanic because that really refers to Spain, which is a country that colonized and enslaved their ancestors.

            1. SM

              Uhm. No. Hispanic and Latinos is interchangeable, although certain segments of the population/countries prefer to be referred one way v. another.

              1. TL

                Ehh… My Oma gets very, very upset if you refer to her as Hispanic (she’s Mexican-American) but I don’t think she minds Latina.

                But where I grew up, everyone identified as Hispanic or, if they wanted to be more specific, generally they said Mexican-American or Mexican.

              2. Gwen

                Oh, really? A professor of Portuguese studies told me that Hispanic refers to people of any Spanish-colonized country, and Latino includes Hispanics and people from Portuguese-colonized countries (i.e., Portugal, Brazil).

            2. Joey

              And don’t dare refer to all Latinos as Mexicans. There’s nothing more insulting than assuming that anyone with brown skin from a Spanish speaking culture comes from Mexico .

              1. Mints

                I don’t mind if someone is like “Oh are you Mexican?” But when I say no, the proper response is to accept it. If I get any hint of argumentativeness, I will remember it forever

              2. businesslady

                YES! my husband is half-Mexican & when I was talking to a friend about his heritage way back when we started dating she was like “is he *Mexican*-Mexican or is he just Mexican?” (she meant the latter as a synonym for “Latino.”) I just stared at her & was like “I do not know how to answer your question. :-|

                also I had a LONG & annoying conversation with a coworker once re: another coworker who I knew had some relatives from the Dominican Republic. “really? I thought he was Mexican.” “maybe he is, but I know his family’s from the DR.” “no, I’m pretty sure he’s Mexican.” “well THAT MAY BE but I DEFINITELY know he’s mentioned being from the DR & you can have more than one national affiliation.” “…I’m just saying, he’s Mexican.” sigh.

        1. Jen in RO

          This is very nitpicky, but “Rumanian” is very old spelling and “Romanian” is the norm nowadays.
          *points at username for why this stood out to me*

      2. Joey

        I’m sure not everyone is like this but I’ve found that most people who use the term Spanish incorrectly do it because they feel a bit ashamed of their heritage. Or at least that’s the perception they create within their respective cultural communities. And its hard not to believe that perception when you’re called out on it by your cultural peers. And believe me, you will get called out.

      3. Joey

        Curious. How does he self identify? I have teen nieces that are half German half Mexican and they refer to themselves as germexicans.

        1. TL

          I have a friend who calls herself Wexican (white/Mexican) and apparently there were a lot of Blexicans at her high school as well. (Black/Mexican)

          People find such great ways to self-identify. :)

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          The Mexican is on his mom’s side and his dad has not been close to his family since he was a kid, so he says Mexican more than anything else. We did Mexican rituals at our wedding.

          (People usually guess he’s Spanish or Italian, interestingly. Or Greek! Occasionally Jewish. People are bad at guessing heritage though; everyone thinks I’m Irish.)

          1. Meg

            A lot of people think anyone with red hair is instantly Irish. One of my best friends is 100% Dutch and has red hair. People ALWAYS think she’s Irish, and it grates on her nerves after awhile.

            1. businesslady

              interestingly/sadly enough, my half-Mexican (& half-Polish) husband used to tell people his family was “from Spain”–they are, if you go far enough back, but that’s pretty much a given unless you’re from a fully indigenous background–because that seemed like the best strategy growing up in Phoenix, AZ.

              his (100% Mexican) dad was actually the one who suggested this approach. & he didn’t teach his kids Spanish because he didn’t want them to be anything less than completely assimilated into white culture. :(

          2. Meg

            My dad is from Russia, and my mom is Native American (at least half – my mom’s biological mother is full Cherokee, and my mom’s dad … not a lot of is known about him). Most people tend to accurately guess my Eastern european heritage because of some ethnic features, but very few can see the Native American features (for me, it’s just the high cheek bones, and my mom’s natural hair color. I tend to take after my father’s side, genetically).

            My best friend’s mother is Polish and Irish, and her father is Mexican. She looks distinctly Mexican, so when she and her mother are out and about (who has fair complexion and red hair vs the daughter’s darker olive complexion and dark hair), they never assume they are related.

            Both are fluent in Spanish though; her mom was my homeroom teacher in high school, and was my brother’s Spanish teacher.

  4. Chocolate Teapot

    5. I can imagine giving several months notice for a holiday if it was involving major travel plans, then a couple of weeks if it was an odd day, such as extending a long weekend.

  5. Katie

    #5 The LW is just starting the job, and it’s unclear to me if the the 6 weeks notice is for the first day off (I’ve been in jobs where you can’t take vacation during a probationary period), or if it’s for all days off. I agree that 6 weeks notice is not reasonable for sick time, but perfectly acceptable for vacation time. It sounds like the the LW has a week planned in California after starting the job, but isn’t sure which week. That might be tough. I schedule my vacations months ahead of time, and I literally don’t understand why other people don’t. It just takes so much coordination – it just doesn’t seem feasible to book tickets and hotels with that little notice. I don’t understand how that works.

    1. MJ of the West

      For people who travel often, last-minute trips aren’t usually a big deal. A week or two is very reasonable to book a quick hotel and plane tickets. Less than a week, things can get a little harder but it’s generally still doable.

      Now, I can see how some ancillary concerns could come into play here (like childcare, pet care, coverage for appointments, etc). Those things might be harder to put together than the trip itself.

      1. Katie

        I travel for pleasure at least 10 times a year – 1-2 vacations + multiple weekend getaways. Airfares always seem to go up as the travel date approaches – so I tend to book early. I can’t make things work out unless I plan ahead. That’s why I’m confused.

        1. Jen in RO

          Depends on how you do it. I know someone who went on a 2-week road trip and only booked the first 3-4 nights. She had turned on notification from Booking.com for good last-minute deals in that area, and she got a lot of cheap hotels rooms for the rest of her trip. And, while flights get more expensive as the date approaches, they don’t always get *prohibitively* expensive. I’ve booked tickets with 2 weeks notice when it was something unexpected. (For example, my boyfriend was once told he was traveling for work in 2 weeks and he was staying in the company’s apartment. The plane tickets were more expensive, but I didn’t pay anything for accommodation.)

      2. Colette

        I think it also depends how concerned you are about the cost. If you book at the last minute, you might get a really good deal, or you might have to pay a lot more.

      3. Anonymous

        Last-minute travel. Gah! I’m twitching and fighting the urge to runt to my computer and lovingly stare at my travel spreadsheet for our trip in March. Not to mention the shared travel calendar that gets obsessively filled with daily trip information….

    2. hamster

      I haven’t taken vacation a year and a half. This november i was feeling a bit burned out, so i asked my manager for a week “next week”. I was still really busy so i managed to book the plane and hotel by sunday. I left on monday. Good think i have my passport valid. So yes, it’s doable, and if you ask me , more fun

    3. VintageLydia

      My honeymoon was booked the weekend before we took it. We couldn’t afford to go to one but we both took that week off work for a staycation anyway. Our parents all came together to surprise us with airfare and hotel accommodations but everything else was on us. At least with hotels, they generally get cheaper as time goes on since they’re trying to fill rooms. Had a great time. It helps that neither of us likes to schedule every second of our vacations.

  6. Ann Furthermore

    I think 6 weeks is reasonable for a scheduled vacation where you’ll be out for a full week. But for the odd day here and there it does seem excessive.

    Of course this could vary by company/area. Obviously if you’re in a customer-facing job it could be harder to arrange a day off if you decide on Wednesday that you’d like to take Friday off. Or if you’re required to find someone to cover for you, that’s not a whole lot of notice. But in my particular job, I can do that once in awhile, provided that there are no critical issues left hanging.

  7. EJ

    #3- “My employer knows I speak some Spanish”

    Before jumping to the discrimination card here, it’s worth understanding from the OP how this fact came to be. Was it on the resume? Was it spoken over the phone at work and overheard?

    Also, if there is a client that only speaks Spanish and nobody else in the office speaks any Spanish, it makes sense to be that they’d be assigned to the person most likely to be able to communicate with them.

    And if the language will be a real obstacle, then that should come out through the remedy AAM recommended (talking with the case worker and raising a united front to the manager).

    1. Audiophile

      I don’t think anyone is ‘jumping to the discrimination card’. I know someone who had a common Spanish last name, so people automatically assumed she spoke Spanish, she didn’t. I’d say there’s a difference between speaking some Spanish and speaking it fluently. I don’t blame the OP for being uncomfortable.

      1. BCW

        Agreed, but like EJ said, I would question the reason they think they speak such good spanish. Some people do put things like this on a resume to help get a job. I would never assume someone whose last name was Rodriguez or something similar automatically spoke spanish. But if they said they had good spanish speaking skills, then yes, I would assume they would be comfortable working with someone who only spoke spanish.

        I’m fairly conversational in spanish. So I like to explain to people that if you dropped me in the middle of Mexico, where they only spoke spanish, I could get by well enough, although I couldn’t fully express myself. That is different than being fluent, which you alluded to. But I’d never put that on a resume or even bring it up to an employer unless asked directly.

        1. Meg

          But there’s a big difference in being conversational in Spanish (or any language), and knowing professional terminology. Similar to themmases, I work in a hospital where we work with a lot of patients that speak other languages. Most of them have children, or spouses, or other relatives that speak English, but still request a medical interpreter because they don’t know the appropriate terminology. She may be able to speak Spanish at home, but doesn’t know enough to use it effectively at work.

          1. TL

            I work in the research part of a hospital and the training that I had to go to (in case I ever run into a patient accidentally?) says that you always, always, always ask for an interpreter if it seems like the patient is having trouble following English.

            It’s a large hospital so they have interpreters for many, many languages.

            1. Meg

              I went through similar training. And for the more obscure languages, we use a medical interpreter company that we basically conference call whenever we need to. The doctor I work for has a patient that speaks Efik, which is from Nigeria, and I had never heard of until I needed to call them. It was a trip trying to find an interpreter who spoke that language …

        2. Kelly L.

          Yes, this. I think I could manage, say, a vacation in a Spanish-speaking country and get by just fine re: shopping and restaurants and directions and such. But specialized work vocabulary, no way.

          1. Anonymous

            Agreed! I can chug along in India just fine with my Hindi, but I’d never take on work from our India offices if I knew they needed more than my awesome sari bargaining skills.

        3. Cassie

          I was at a neighborhood meeting once and they introduced the new police officer in charge of our area – one resident started asking him a question in Spanish and he had to tell her that although he is (and looks) Hispanic and his last name is a Hispanic/Spanish last name, he doesn’t actually speak any Spanish.

          I wouldn’t assume someone speaks a language based on their last name or their appearance – it reminds me of when the Soup Nazi threw out a customer for saying “por favor”.

      2. themmases

        I agree. There is also a big difference between speaking Spanish– or any language– fluently with friends and family (and it sounds like the OP doesn’t even do that) and having the specialized vocabulary to speak it fluently for work. It only takes a little bit of thought to know that: for example, despite being fluent in English many commenters here probably couldn’t show up to the OP’s job and sound like a professional social worker, or show up to my job and sound like they know medical terminology.

        I work in a hospital where we serve many Spanish-speaking families, and even staff who are fluent in Spanish are encouraged to call an interpreter to speak with these families if they want one– and often do, because they use Spanish to talk to their own families, not to describe complex medical procedures.

        People providing social services need the trust of their clients, and to show that they and their organization are being respectful. Sticking a family with someone who can’t actually communicate with them, and not bothering to get an interpreter, sends a terrible message that could harm this family. I strongly doubt that this is this organization’s first ever Spanish-speaking referral. The boss should be following the same procedures they followed in the past, and if they needed an employee who speaks Spanish fluently at work, they should have asked before hiring.

        1. Meg

          It’s not about not knowing the English technical jargon for your profession. I speak Russian conversationally (with family) but I don’t the Russian for all the technical jargon I deal with at work, and wouldn’t be able to communicate on a professional/business level with Russian. I can’t even describe what I do at work to my Russian family in English, let alone Russian haha.

      3. Ellie H.

        I also think that you can speak something well enough to put it on a resume without being fluent. I speak Russian and Serbo-Croatian well enough to put it on my resume but I am NOT CAPABLE of conducting a social services visit in Russian! (Not that I would be capable of doing it in English either, but you get what I mean.) I don’t try to be deceptive about it. You really do not want to be in a situation where you have overstated your fluency in a second language and are now expected to perform at that level.

        I do think that people who speak a foreign language but not fluently may be a bit more self-deprecating of their skill than an objective person, because you can see what you don’t know and a third party who doesn’t speak the language can only see (hear) what you DO know, the same as with anything else, but that still doesn’t imply that someone has been either deceptive or overly self-deprecating about ability.

        1. BCW

          I kind of disagree. If I put Spanish Language Skills on my resume, I think that kind of implies that you are fluent not just conversational. To me its similar to if I put “web page design” as a skill it implies more than “I can use geocities or blogger”. So if you do put that, then you are put in the position of using a skill that you said you had, after the fact it looks bad to say “well, I don’t fully have that skill, just a bit”

          1. Ellie H.

            With language ability, you typically also write the level of ability e.g. intermediate, proficient, fluent, beginning, etc.

          2. Joey

            I agree. Don’t put it on your résumé unless you can utilize it in the context of the job you’re applying for. Its disingenuous to apply for say a job like the ops and list on your résumé that you’re bilingual. At minimum you should caveat it (ie conversational Spanish)

          3. Ellie H.

            I would never describe myself as bilingual or fluent – but I would still argue it is legitimate to indicate your level of language ability on a resume even if you’re not fluent. There are some situations where both the other languages I know have been useful, if not strictly required, in both my current job and my previous customer service job. I can think of examples such as having been able to help customers who didn’t speak English with directions, greeting visiting scholars in their native language, making international students feel more welcome, confirming that a diploma actually states the student’s degree, etc. (I also translated a diploma from Latin once, but I don’t list Latin on my resume!) I’m not suggesting that anyone claim fluency when he or she is not, but that it can still be helpful to know some of another language even if you are not 100% fluent.

            1. Jen in RO

              I absolutely agree. My resume lists my language proficiencies as beginner, intermediate or advanced. Just because I’m not 100% fluent in a language doesn’t mean it can’t come in useful at work.

    2. Joey

      #3. I used to have the same problem- I was the only one who knew more than just cuss words in Spanish. My family is Mexican American and Spanish wasn’t used often enough for me to become fluent at home. When I started working I dealt with the same thing. Here’s a solution that works 9 times out of 10. Call the family ahead of time and tell them you don’t speak Spanish very well and ask if they have a family member that can translate. Almost always the child, relative, or grand kid will be well versed in both languages. Keep at it and you’ll progressively get better.

      1. some1

        Good suggestion. My good friend is first generation Mexican-American and she didn’t learn English until she started kindergarten. For years after she translated for her parents at her school, at stores, dr offices, etc.

      2. Anonymous

        This isn’t a good idea, having a relative and especially a child to translate. The relative translating might not have the technical vocabulary either, and they shouldn’t be the one responsible in case something doesn’t get translated right. And there are some things a child should not know.

        1. Joey

          Obviously you have no experience with this. This is how the majority of non English speakers get through life in an English speaking community. Sure a fluent professional is ideal, but its super common to figure out a wye to make it work.

          1. Hous

            A lot of the time I agree with this, but considering the OP is working in child protective services, having a child working as the sole translator for the family seems like a really bad idea.

          2. themmases

            That may be true, but when you are providing this type of service it is still inappropriate. My hospital might let a parent or adult relative translate for other family members, but we would never let a child do that.

            And there is a big difference between letting a family member interpret on the fly, say in an emergency or in a casual situation, and what the OP is being asked to do. The OP and their supervisor have days, minimum, to discuss whether and how to see this family, and the OP’s organization is supposed to be providing a service to them in a situation that is clearly over a child’s head to interpret.

        2. TL

          Joey’s right – this is very common. It’s not ideal, perhaps, but unfortunately not every person and organization can afford a professional interpreter. (In fact, most can’t.)

          And what a kid should/shouldn’t know can be very culturally dependent.

          1. Toast

            Research on this topic shows both negatives and positives to the child and the parent-child relationship. Having done this myself with my parents, I would strongly recommend that you obtain a professional interpreter. It puts the child in such an awkward spot when the child does not understand English fully and is expected to know adult situations.

            1. Jen in RO

              But if a translator was a viable option the OP wouldn’t have written to Alison… so why it’s a good suggestion in an ideal world, it doesn’t apply to the situation at hand.

          2. Jess

            It’s common, but it’s generally considered to be inappropriate, especially if the social services may touch on topics that should not be translated by a child, who is often the person with the best english skills. It seems to make sense that the family might be assigned to the person with the best Spanish skills in the office, but there should still be a true interpreter available. If these services are funded through the county, they may be mandated to have an interpreter available- even if it’s something like language line, where you call in and teleconference.

            1. Jess

              And I think while an interpreter is not presented as an option here, that’s often the case before someone pushes the issue. Sometimes they are available, but no one has ever been willing to do the work to get one, since it can be a pain.

              1. Sophie

                Regarding #3–an interpreter has to be an option. Language access is protected under Title VI (discrimination based on language is interpreted as equivalent to national origin discrimination). If there are no in-person interpreters available, a telephonic (less ideal) interpreter should be used. Family members/friends should not be used as interpreters, even if they are adults, for many reasons, including: client confidentiality is compromised, the ad-hoc interpreter may not have adequate language skills in one or both languages, the client or the interpreter-family member may be reluctant to divulge pertinent information, etc.
                This is really important-a trained, fully bilingual interpreter needs to be used, and the client is not responsible for locating or paying for the interpreter.

                1. Joey

                  Wrong. People do not have an unconditional right to language services. Think about what you just said. Do you see every single thing printed in every language possible? And do you see language interpreters for every language available everywhere?

                2. Loose Seal

                  I believe Title VI only applies to organizations that receive Federal funding. This nonprofit may not fall under that provision.

                3. JessB

                  Of course, I don’t know about America, but in Australia, most information I get from my local council comes with translations in about 5 other languages, plus a prominent number you can call if your language isn’t shown. It’s the same for State government information, while Federal government information tends to be so lengthy that they keep your language preference on file, and just send you the one that you need.

                4. Sophie

                  Yes, I am quite aware of what I said. If the nonprofit does receive any sort of federal funding (grants, loans, tax incentives, etc.), they are required to comply with Title VI. There is also a federal executive order pertaining to language access, as well as state executive orders (e.g., New York). Perhaps, as Loose Seal, says, this nonprofit does not fall into this category. However, I think this mandate is interpreted rather broadly, so if any part of the organization receive any of this sort of funding, the entire organization is required to comply.
                  Also, it’s worth noting that many states, counties, and cities also have their own language access requirements. It sounds like the county is also involved in this situation, so perhaps they (either by reciept of federal funds and/or some state or county provision) have a responsibility in regards to language access.
                  And yes, I frequently see things translated, not into every language but rather the 5 or so most common langauges limited English proficient individuals speak in that particular area. There are also “ISpeak” Cards with a brief sentence surmising that the person speaks a certain language printed in multiple langauges that a limited English proficient person can point to, with the idea that the organization can then contact a telephonic interpreter for interpretation services. In answer to your last question, no, obviously, I do not see interpreters for every language everywhere.

    3. Brett

      I also have a really common Hispanic last name, in a metro region with really low Hispanic populations (so my name is rather unique here and people do not regularly run into 3rd generation or more Hispanics who speak no Spanish, like me). The assumption that I speak Spanish is a pretty common one; and the reality is that I can communicate in Spanish but only at a minimal level.

      1. Joey

        This is a super common perception in communities with low minority populations- if you come from a culture that speaks another language obviously you must speak another language…and eat nothing but your cultural food. Its ignorance due to lack of exposure.

        It’s the same with people who say have no exposure to say texas- they think its all tumbleweeds and cowboy hats.

        1. TL

          I had somebody (in Minnesota) ask me if I rode a horse to school because I’m from Texas…

          One thing that is super common where I grew up are 2nd/3rd generations who perfectly understand Spanish but don’t speak very much. Their Spanish-speaking parents didn’t allow them to speak Spanish but spoke to them almost exclusively in Spanish.

          It could get confusing because they could translate almost anything to English, so a lot of outsiders would just assume fluency when they heard them translating Spanish-to-English, not realizing they couldn’t go English-to-Spanish.

          1. the gold digger

            This actually worked to my advantage in Miami when I was looking for a job working with Latin America. People asked me why should they hire someone who was not a native speaker when Miami is full of people who have learned Spanish at home.

            I told them that I had studied Spanish in school and spoke proper Spanish and could read it and write it. A lot of the 2nd and 3rd generation Cubans speak it at home, but they have never taken Spanish in school, so they can’t write it and they don’t always use the proper grammar.

            1. Elaine

              That was my constant daydream, to ride a horse to school! And I’m from Wisconsin. Don’t they know Texans just drive trucks and ATVs these days? ;-)

        2. Cassie

          Well, for some reason, some Hispanic-speaking people (they always seem to be women) think I speak Spanish. Even though I don’t look Hispanic (I’m not) and I don’t have a Spanish last name. But I do live in Los Angeles where a good portion of the population speak Spanish, either natively or learned in school/for work, etc.

            1. Cassie

              Oops, my bad – I don’t say “Hispanic-speaking”. I think I originally typed “Spanish-speaking”, then changed it to “Hispanic” but forgot to delete the “-speaking” part.

              I hate when I do that!

    4. Anonicorn

      That’s what I was wondering too. If nobody else speaks any Spanish at all, then I can understand why someone who speaks some Spanish might be assigned to the family.

    5. Green

      I will just note that at my former employer, we had a list of dozens of people who were on a Spanish speakers’ list.

      I was in charge of several Spanish language projects and often needed to fill out my team. Probably 10% of the people I contacted actually said that they could complete assignments in the language (typically just reviewing written Spanish) or conducting research in Spanish. They wanted to know how the list had been compiled. The list was populated based on their resumes…

      May not be applicable to OPs situation, but do NOT put a language on your resume without being VERY specific as to your limitations. You may be expected to work in that language if you sell that as one of your skills. And don’t fluff. Don’t put intermediate if you’re basic, don’t put advanced if you can only read but can’t speak the language, etc.

      1. Joey

        Yeah, I know tons of people who consider themselves fluent in Spanish because they passed 4 or 5 years of spanish classes and cant say more than “como le puede ayudar” or “donde está el baño.”

      2. Jen in RO

        I stopped trusting skills listed on resumes after I was involved in hiring a new person for my team. The most important requirement was advanced English (in a non-English speaking country, of course) and the job even had “writer” in the name. We gave candidates a test (to write 1-2 pages in English) and I was honestly shocked by what people thought “advanced” English was! Most of these people were intermediate at best. It was an eye-opening experience for sure.

      3. Mints

        This is really annoying on the consumer side too. My mom would specifically seek out doctors offices that called themselves bilingual and SO many times, we would get there and they would only have one Spanish speaking clinician and a couple front desk people who looked hispanic and had names like María González and wear the Hablo Español button, but wouldn’t carry a normal conversation in Spanish. If it’s something employers are advertising, they should test it during hiring

        1. the gold digger

          When I was interviewing for a marketing job involving Latin America, one of the Spanish speakers in the office had a 15 minute conversation with me in Spanish to test my Spanish, which I thought was fair.

          For my current job, which also requires Spanish, they just believed me that I speak Spanish, which I think was kind of dumb of them. Trust but verify.

      4. Jess

        Some of this is employers willfully ignoring what you tell them, however. I am very clear that I do not speak enough Spanish to interpret in a legal setting. I can set up an appointment, leave a message for someone, get a basic point across, etc, but I am not fluent and I do not have legal vocabulary. But often, I’m the only person in an office or group who speaks ANY Spanish, and those who don’t speak at all insist on not understanding the limitations. No, we can’t just not wait for the interpreter to interpret this arraignment because I am capable of greeting the client in Spanish. Not the same thing. It seems like no amount of explanation solves this problem for me.

        1. Green

          Yeah, I was asked to do simultaneous translation at my last position–as in listen while someone was speaking, convey in English what they were saying to my boss, while continuing to listen in Spanish. That is a bit beyond my Spanish skills (and my multi-tasking skills).

          I always used the guidelines that if it was just going to be slightly awkward for me, then I’d be honest about my limitations but give it a try if they still wanted to (having a phone call with someone where words I don’t know might come up). If I was going to royally screw something up, then I was very clear about the limits.

          I actually lucked out because I was working with mostly bilingual native Spanish speakers. We each understood fluently but felt most comfortable speaking in our own native language, and so my business associates would speak in Spanish and I’d speak in English and we got on just fine.

      5. bearing

        Just out of curiosity, is there some set of standards somewhere that defines what “intermediate,” “functional,” etc. means? Obviously you could quantify it by taking a standardized test and reporting a score or a certification…

        1. Ellie H.

          There are several different standards. Some scale “beginning, intermediate, advanced”; some want you to list those designations in speaking, listening, reading and writing; some use “proficient” and “conversational,” some use numbers, etc. It would be helpful if there were just one standard, of course.

  8. Christine

    #5 – 6 weeks is completely reasonable notice if you’re going out of town for a week or just want a 3-day weekend. LW is going to have to start planning things further in advance. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect that much advance notice, particularly in a business environment where clients have scheduled appointments. Obviously, no one can plan sick days or car trouble. If those things happen more than once in a blue moon, I’d be concerned as an employer about reliability.

    1. BCW

      6 weeks for a Friday or a Monday does sound like a lot to me. I mean yeah, you will probably plan a week long vacation that long in advance, but sometimes things come up where you want a long weekend.

      1. Colette

        If it were a job that could sit for a day, I’d agree with you, but if it’s a job where people have made appointments specifically with you (as it appears to be with the OP), you’ll lose customers if you cancel at the last minute – I don’t think it’s unreasonable to require enough notice to rebook people or find someone to cover.

        1. Jen in RO

          The thing is, there’s quite a difference between “last minute” and six weeks in advance. Sometimes it’s possible to schedule long weekend a month and a half before they happen (getting the Friday before a holiday weekend*, for example), but at other times… it’s not. I just took 18-23 December off because a friend of mine just decided to visit from another country.

          *And can I just say that the US is great for having most holidays fall on a Monday? Ditto for all countries where you get the following Monday off if the holiday falls on a weekend. November 30 and December 1 are national holidays here and they were Saturday and Sunday :(

          1. Colette

            Well, there is, but at the same time, if I have to book an appointment in 6 weeks because that’s when they’re booking (i.e. there are no slots available earlier) and they call me three weeks (or two weeks, or one week) before my appointment and reschedule me for another 6 weeks (i.e. 9 weeks from my first call), I’m not going to go back unless I have a compelling reason to do so.

            If that’s when they book at this business, it’s not unreasonable to expect that much notice for non-emergency time off.

            1. Jen in RO

              I just think this “x time in advance” rule is a bit iffy – why not use common sense? “You can ask for time off 2 days in advance, if you feel like it, but you might not get it.” If another employee asks for time off 8 weeks in advance, and the request is granted, then even if the OP asks for the same period with 6 weeks advance notice s/he probably won’t get it, since that would mean 2 people would be out at the same time. So… why have a rule? Why not just say “ask for time off as much in advance as you can, but know it might or might not be approved, based on the existing situation”?

              1. Colette

                I don’t think it’s a matter of coverage, though. In other words, I don’t think the clients will be happy if they’re scheduled with someone else. It’s not like a cashier, where as long as you have enough people to work, you can have the time off. It’s more like a family doctor, where there’s an ongoing relationship.

                1. Jen in RO

                  Yeah, this makes sense, I hadn’t paid attention to the OP’s line of work. I’m also assuming that customers can’t make an appointment more than 6 weeks in advance.

        2. BCW

          Unless your shop is packed constantly, I can’t see why with 2 weeks notice you couldn’t rearrange schedules so people can get things done. 6 weeks is really excessive.

          1. E

            With something like waxing, though, people often want to see a specific person, which makes rearranging harder.

            I recently got my hair cut. I scheduled about two months in advance. My hair stylist was having surgery, so we scheduled around that. It turned out that she was out longer than she expected, so the salon owner called me before the appointment to give me the option of either canceling or having my hair cut by somebody else. I really needed hair cut that day – I had an event – so I’m lucky someone else was available.

            When you have customers that have loyalty to specific people and plan far in advance, there isn’t as much schedule flexibility as there is in some jobs. I can request days off with little notice certain times of the year as long as other people are around to cover, but customers haven’t booked appointments with me specifically.

          2. Colette

            It’s about the personal relationship, not just having enough bodies in the business. In other words, your customers may not be comfortable going to someone else – or if they have to go to someone else, they might just go to someone else at another business altogether. The loyalty is to the individual more than the business.

            1. ExceptionToTheRule

              +1

              I followed one stylist through 7 different salons until she moved out of town. I was HER client, not her salon’s.

  9. Frances

    #1- This was a pretty standard request when I was booking travel for job and grad student candidates in academia. Depending on your destination, the airfare may even be cheaper with a Saturday night stay. So definitely ask.

    1. Anon1

      I’d agree – just ask. What you do want to have in hand is that your preferred times are no more costly than the company’s “default” or offer to pay difference. Often, the difference is so small that the manager might easily say don’t bother – but you are sending a message that you are careful about spending other people’s money.
      Depending on the manager, a self funded familiarization trip is a good way to frame the request. Others won’t really care – my view is that your weekends are your own and really only care if my budget is being eaten unnecessarily.

  10. hospital anon

    #5-I may be confused, but it looks to me like you knew about your trip before you took the job? If so, you should have mentioned it when they gave you the job offer. And either way, for a vacation (especially for a job like yours where appointments may be made on a regular basis such as someone coming in every 4 weeks) I think 6 weeks is a reasonable amount of notice.
    I am taking off the week of Christmas (my son is getting married that Saturday!) and I asked off in January-so almost a years notice. Since my employer would have to get someone to cover the night shift during Christmas I wanted to give them as much notice as possible.

    1. BCW

      As she says, she knew she was going, just not sure when, which I can understand. Depending on the nature of the visit, who she is going with, etc, sometimes you don’t know things as far in advance as you like. However, once she was offered a job, she probably should have pressed to find a more firm date.

  11. Jubilance

    I do a lot of last minute trips – like booked on Wednesday for a Saturday flight type last minute – so 6 weeks notice of taking time off wouldn’t work for me. OP, do you rarely take time off to get away? If that works within your lifestyle, then perhaps its reasonable. For me, it wouldn’t work and I’m happy I have a flexible work environment to accommodate that.

  12. Joey

    3. I wouldn’t suspect there’s any discrimination since the boss knows he speaks some Spanish. Now if the boss assumed he knew Spanish that’s a different story.

    1. LMW

      That’s what I was thinking too. The boss knows she speaks some Spanish. It sounds like no one else in the office speaks any Spanish, and the OP says an interpreter is not an option. So, who is the boss supposed to assign this case to? If I were the boss, I’d take the person who I know (for whatever reason) speaks a little Spanish over another person who doesn’t speak any. Unless they have the option of not working with them at all.

      1. Jen in RO

        Like you, I think the boss made the best choice. They have no translator, a bunch of employees who speak zero Spanish, and an employee who speaks some Spanish. Of course the person who speaks some Spanish is the one who gets assigned to the case! How on Earth could this classify as discrimination?

        1. Lisa

          I thought that too, but it sounds like the boss just isn’t recognizing this major problem. What happens if it wasn’t Spanish? Does the boss say ‘no we can’t handle this”? If there is a precedent for other families that speak languages that no one knows at all, then OP should be attempting to find out how those cases have been handled and get this one dealt with in the same manner. Prob transferred to another dept or county with fluent speakers.

          1. Ethyl

            Right — I read this as the boss being unable/unwilling to hear what the OP is saying in regards to their level of fluency, and making assumptions based on the OP’s ethnicity and last name about their language proficiency.

            To me, it seems like the OP is being forced into an uncomfortable situation that puts clients potentially at risk because of their ethnicity. That….sounds discriminatory.

          2. Bea W

            I’m curious where they live that there are no Spanish resources available. I assume this is some rural area. It could be another dept or county is too far away, and for certain things, you need to be served within your own county or district, this is especially true for government run programs. Also, someone from another county wouldn’t have the knowledge of the area or connections where the family lives to be able to serve them effectively, and that is a bigger problem than a language barrier.

      2. Elizabeth West

        True, but if the OP doesn’t speak it well enough to communicate effectively with these clients, they need to provide an interpreter. It could make a huge difference in how well the office is able to serve them. Garbled communication won’t help them.

        1. Lisa

          This is about child protection cases where you need to be able to effectively tell parents that your kids could be taken away unless they do X, Y, Z. This is a huge safety concern for the kids too, what if the kid tells OP that they are being abused and OP didn’t understand him / her?? This is a disaster waiting to happen.

      3. Bea W

        Exactly. Someone who speaks a little bit of Spanish is better than someone who speaks no Spanish at all.

    1. Anon

      The position is not in Iowa (the actual locations were changed). The question is more about how to diplomatically approach the issue.

    2. Jessica (the celt)

      Agree! I lived in Iowa for five years (college and first job), and Iowa City is still one of my favorite areas.

  13. Toast

    #3. I know the OP mentioned that a professional translator is out of the question. Can I ask why? As I mentioned under Joey and TL’s posts above, research shows that having a child be a cultural/language broker for the family leads to both negative and positive outcomes. I would really push your boss to hire a translator who can attend your meetings with you.

      1. Ruffingit

        This. Interpreters who are qualified to work for agencies are expensive most of the time. And they should be, that’s a marketable skill.

  14. Ruffingit

    #3: This is a cautionary tale about a few things in my book – people should never assume you speak a language simply because you look like you’re from such and such geographic area. If you speak the language somewhat, but are not fluent, never tell your boss you speak it at all. Sometimes people get confused about that, thinking that if you can speak it at all that you can carry on a conversation. Not so. It may be you can ask for and understand directions to the train station for example, but having a full conversation? No.

    I hope the OP is able to get her boss to back off because the family is coming to her agency for help. They are not going to get what they need and deserve from that agency if the people there don’t speak the language.

    1. Cassie

      I speak a second language, meaning that my parents speak it so I’ve heard it my whole life and I’ve taken classes in high school, so while I can fully understand it (when I hear it), and I can read it, I’m not the best at speaking it. I can get the point across if need be, but it’s not the best pronunciation and/or grammar. And may take me a while to think of the right words.

      When I first met my roommate freshman year in college, she asked if I spoke the language (she does, fluently). I told her I can speak it a little. At the end of the year, she was quite surprised to find out that I had been able to understand everything she and her friends were saying this whole time.

  15. holly

    #2 ugh, i would definitely ask for a redial. i had a skype interview awhile ago with a room full of people. the video quality was so bad i could never figure out who was speaking. plus there was some kind of delay. so i think i looked confused the whole time which is bad in an interview. or maybe they couldn’t see me either! i sort of wish i’d ask for a reconnect… but skype interviews are terrible anyway!

  16. HR Gentleman

    #3
    The choice is either the family receives no support or resources from the non-profit, I’m sure in contradiction to their mission statement, or they provide the services best they can.

    I see absolutely no discriminatory practices with the boss making the decision to put him on this case, he is clearly using the best possible option.

    I’ve worked with many Hispanic people over the years and there has always been someone to help translate. Many voiced fear of the “technical” language. When dealing with clients involved in DOC and Child Welfare effective language is broken down to simplest terms, no matter the primary language spoken.

    I also suspect the boss is essentially saying (not clearly enough) if language is an issue, OP needs to solve it. We don’t know where the OP is located but it’d have to be the most uber white and remote location in the US to not have interpreter resources available. Even if, there is always services available by phone. I’ve traveled to many communities, urban, rural, and all over the map and there is many, many agencies that off support to the Hispanic/Latin/Whatever population.

    OP- step up and make it work, your clients need the assist.

    1. Bea W

      OP, no one else in your office speaks Spanish? That is what I understood from your letter. Unless this client can go to another agency, someone will have to work with this family. Is that an option – to hook this family up with an agency that can provide them with either an interpreter or a worker who can speak Spanish?

      If there is no other agency available to work with the family, and you only speak a little Spanish, you might be the best, if not great, option for them if the alternative is that they do no get services at all, and that is not acceptable. So your agency will have to make due with what they have, which may be you with a limited Spanish vocabulary, which is better than someone with absolutely no Spanish vocabulary.

      If your job is to help this family get some basic services, you don’t need a highly technical vocabulary. You need to find out what they need – food, putting children in school, financial assistance, housing, etc and hook them up with the right services. You may not speak Spanish, but if the family needs to apply for SNAP you can communicate enough to give them an address, arrange an appointment, communicate with the office that this family will need an interpreter to apply for benefits, etc. You can direct them to ESL programs so they can learn English. If they need help filling out simple applications, you really only need a simple vocabulary to ask their name, birthdate, income, etc. Maybe they know someone who can speak enough English and can be there to help translate.

      It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing at all if that is what it comes down to. If you needed help but could not speak the language well, it would not matter too much to you if the only person available to help was someone who could barely speak your language. What matters is that you make the effort to communicate and find out their needs. If no one else speaks any Spanish at all, then you with a limited vocabulary are the best option. At least you have some foundation to build from.

  17. Amy

    #2 – When I was doing job interviews last fall, I found that it was easiest for me to do the interview with the headphone/microphone plugged into my iPhone, instead of holding the phone up to my ear. First, I could hear more clearly with the buds in, and second my hands were free for things like taking notes, looking through my resume/things I had in front of me/etc.

    Doesn’t solve the problem if it’s on their end, but I just find that I hear better when I use the earphones.

  18. Wren

    The questions regarding language barriers and teleconfrence interview come together to remind me of a funny story a friend told me where she and team members conducted a technical interview with someone abroad over VOIP. They got the sense the candidate was trying to hide their lack of fluency in the language of the interview, and the language of the job. There would be lots of long pauses with stalling sounds like, “hmmm….” followed by, “Oh… yes! yes!” then a pause again before a stilted answer was given. They suspected their candidate was typing questions and replies into machine translation softward.

  19. Barefoot Librarian

    I can sympathize with the OP who is expected to speak Spanish at work even though s/he is not fluent. I have no Hispanic background and once-upon-a-time a company I work for assigned me the task of adding Spanish translations within their software product even though I assured them that my entire Spanish vocabulary covered only basic greetings, the location of a bathroom, and asking for wine.

    Needless to say I heavily used Google Translate and, when they finally hired a Spanish speaker to take over, she said that it looked like the translations had been done by a five-year-old. I thanked her…I didn’t think I’d done that well lol.

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