US Business Habla Español

By Domenico Maceri

“We are an English-speaking nation” declared Arizona State Rep. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), as he tried to explain his new bill which would make English the official language of his state.

American business disagrees. Recognizing that nearly 47 million U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home, companies are trying very hard to grab an increasing share of this market. And doing so requires services and products that appeal to non-English-speaking consumers.

It’s no surprise therefore that when you use an ATM machine you are asked to choose between English and Spanish. Banks not providing that choice may lose business since Spanish is spoken by nearly 30 million US residents.

The purchasing power of Hispanics in the US is going to increase to $1 trillion by 2008 and by the year 2050 Latinos will make up 25% of the US workforce.

These figures apply to all American states and reflect the heavy concentra-tions of Latinos in the Southwest and Florida. Yet, the Latino population is increasing all across the country, including areas which in the past attracted little immigration.

Although Spanish is the five-hundred-pound gorilla when it comes to bilingual purchasing power, companies are becoming smart about the diverse languages needs of the local community.

Immigrants tend to develop a loyalty to businesses that provide services and in many cases can make or break a company.

There is no doubt that companies that make the effort to understand their customers through language and culture will get ahead and prosper. As the Japanese are fond of saying “the language of business is the customer’s language.”

Domenico Maceri ,PhD, UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA.