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Chamber to offer course in basic business Spanish
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Forsyth County News

Can you sell en Espanol?  If not, you may be losing potential customers and business ventures.

With Forsyth County's Hispanic population on the rise, businesses with bilingual employees could fare better than their English-only counterparts.

It's with this in mind that Sylvia Lopez-Cardona decided to join with the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce to offer classes next month in basic business Spanish.

"If you're trying to sell to somebody and they're not understanding what you're product is, it's a lot more difficult," she said. "I've seen plenty of bad translations and mistakes in language use which can almost do more harm than good."

Forsyth County's Hispanic population has risen from 2.3 percent in 1996 to 8 percent in 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That percentage is expected to increase when the 2007 numbers are released in early August.

"Forsyth County is growing," Lopez-Cardona said. "I think it's important for business owners, people who work in any company or nonprofit agency to better understand where their clients are coming from, culturally and language based.

It makes the community more smooth and it will help bridge some gaps."

Lopez-Cardona has been teaching Spanish classes at Lanier Technical College for nearly two years. But the weekly, three-hour class at the college is "a little much for people who are busy and may not have that time to commit."

The basic business Spanish classes, which will meet for an hour once a week for four weeks, will allow business leaders to pick up the essentials to communicating with Spanish-speaking customers.

In addition to the language, Lopez-Cardona will give information on names, how to understand the need behind particular services or products and priorities for Spanish-speaking clients.

Each of the four classes will have different topics and information. But, she said, attending "just one or another, you can still gain valuable information."

When she's not teaching, Lopez-Cardona is the Hispanic program manager for Mentor Me North Georgia in Cumming.

Many companies and nonprofits are increasing their bilingual services, she said, but there remains a need, especially in health care and insurance industries.

"You have to be certain you have the correct information," she said. "There is a greater need to be careful and make sure something isn't being misunderstood, more so than say retail or food services."

Kris Carroll, spokeswoman for the chamber, said the August classes are a test run to gauge interest.

"With the number of Spanish-speaking people in this community ... in order to help our members be able to reach out to this customer segment, as well as potentially reach out to Spanish-speaking business partners, we thought helping them with a basic Spanish-speaking class would be helpful," she said.

"If being proactive in reaching out to a very large customer group will help our members increase their business, then it's the right thing for us to do."