Urban planning community

+ Reply to thread
Results 1 to 19 of 19

Thread: The value of being a bilingual planner

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Sep 2010
    Location
    About 45 minutes southeast of Thibodaux, Lousiana
    Posts
    28

    The value of being a bilingual planner

    Does anyone out there have any experience working in a bilingual english/spanish environment as a planner? After years of study and a good deal of time in Latin America I've reached a level of Spanish that I consider fluent. I'd really like to use these linguistic skills in some way in my career. Is it worth anything in your experience?

    Any thoughts?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Where the weak are killed and eaten.
    Posts
    6,247
    The more skills you can bring to the job the more valuable you will be. Public meetings typically will need people who speak multiple languages. In my area the most valuable are arabic, chinese, spanish, and polish. By knowing a second language you can lead a smaller table size discussion. I wish I had this figured out when I went to college. I took french! While my area is historically French the language has not been spoken commonly for probably 200 years.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  3. #3
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
    Registered
    Dec 2008
    Location
    the delta
    Posts
    1,203
    Where I live there is a sizable Spanish speaking population. They are not to the point where that group participates in the established government by being on the town board or town volunteer groups but we are getting there - it's a slow process. I definitely wish I spoke Spanish because it would make my job easier. I have no doubt for my replacement they will look for Spanish-speaking skills (although no too many bilingual planners out there).
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  4. #4
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 1996
    Location
    Upstate New York
    Posts
    14,589
    Blog entries
    3
    When I lived in southern New Mexico, the area's very large Hispanic community (about 50% of the total) were mostly long-established in the area, many with roots dating back to the early days of New Spain. Many didn't even speak Spanish. You didn't need to be bilingual to be an effective planner, but it helped to learn and understand some slang and the local "Spanglish Light" dialect. (e.g. "You're going to need a special use permit, and a variance if you're going to encroach into the side yard tambien.") You'll hear some Spanish in Cruces, but most speakers were bilingual. Accent shifting and overpronunciation of Spanish words, NPR style, is considered pretentious and patronizing, and is frowned upon. If I encountered anyone in Cruces that was monolingual in Spanish, they were almost always visitors from El Paso or Juarez.

    About 50 km to the south in El Paso, Spanish is far more essential. The large Hispanic community there (about 70%) is dominated by either Mexican immigrants and their descendants. Unlike Las Cruces, it's possible to live your day-to-day life in El Paso without speaking a word of English, and many Spanish speakers can't converse in English.

    Planning jobs in El Paso are advertised frequently, and they pay very well, even if you don't consider the area's low cost of living. Except for adopting the SmartCode, though, EP isn't exactly a planner's paradise. The visual pollution there is the most intense of any city I've ever seen, and it's still a very pedestrian-hostile community.

    The community I worked for outside of Denver has a very large immigrant population. Planners weren't expected to be bilingual. Translators for Spanish, Russian, and Korean were on call, and there was a list of fluent multilingual employees we could call on for other languages.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  5. #5
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2005
    Location
    NYC area
    Posts
    783
    I work in this type of environment as the community I work for is 40% Spanish-speaking. I'm almost fluent in Spanish.

    It's tricky, for a couple of reasons. For one, a lot of planning jargon does not translate directly into Spanish. Outlining the steps required to complete an environmental assessment form in Spanish takes me a little while. Second, terms used to describe things can vary between different Spanish-speaking countries. i.e. Puerto Rican Spanish and Mexican Spanish use completely different colloquialisms.

    When we have to make official communications in Spanish or conduct a public meeting for which we know will receive large turnout from the Latino community, we do use a professional translator for the reasons above. But for day to day stuff requiring Spanish, that's when I come in.

    I would say that it is definitely an asset, and one of the reasons that I was hired here was because I can speak the language.

  6. #6
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2003
    Location
    at the neighboring pub
    Posts
    5,348
    Quote Originally posted by hallstot View post
    Does anyone out there have any experience working in a bilingual english/spanish environment as a planner? After years of study and a good deal of time in Latin America I've reached a level of Spanish that I consider fluent. I'd really like to use these linguistic skills in some way in my career. Is it worth anything in your experience?

    Any thoughts?
    Absolutely, at least here in Tejas and especially if you are working more on the community development side of things with neighborhood planning & stabilization, etc. And if you are proficient in written form as well as verbal, then you'll be considered a very valuable asset. Many Texas cities offer incentive pay for strong bilingual skills. I think it might be Austin that offers a $5,000 annual increase if you are a certified translator, and like $2,000 if you are simply proficient conversationally. One of the nice things in Texas is that most of our Latin American population originates from Mexico, so you deal primarily in a single dialect. You also have a lot of Tex-Mex intermingling of English and Spanish.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Mar 2011
    Location
    Purgatory
    Posts
    57
    I'd say it not only depends on where you live geographically but what the agency does. City planning offices and non-profits tend to have more direct interaction with the community, but it seems like as you get into the state and federal levels you are less likely to interact with the general public (and therefore less likely to need to speak other languages). I work at a region-wide agency and though we have several bilingual planners on staff they rarely need to use those skills. Regardless, I think bilingualism is always an impressive and marketable skill, so make sure it's on your resume and cover letter no matter what the job is. If nothing else it could be the thing that gives you an edge over another applicant.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
    Registered
    Feb 2007
    Location
    As far south of SoCal as I Will Go
    Posts
    5,116
    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    It's tricky, for a couple of reasons. For one, a lot of planning jargon does not translate directly into Spanish.
    This is my difficult task as a spanish speaker. How to explain "permisos" "regulas" and everything under the sun.

    As allez says it really depends on geography and the needs of the agency/firm
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  9. #9
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
    Registered
    Dec 2008
    Location
    the delta
    Posts
    1,203
    We've run into this as well. Like I mentioned, I don't speak Spanish but we do have some translators who run into problems with some technical concepts. One of the hardest things to explain is a rather simple solution on how to find property lines without having a professional survey. Do Spanish-speaking countries in general not have any of those concepts on which to draw from? Certainly it can't be only English-speaking countries with storm-water regulations or setbacks or right-of-ways or utility easements. I understand collective wealth plays a large roles in many regulations but some Spanish-speaking jurisdictions must have these concepts?
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
    Registered
    Feb 2007
    Location
    As far south of SoCal as I Will Go
    Posts
    5,116
    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    but some Spanish-speaking jurisdictions must have these concepts?
    Buy land and build. Well, at least that's how it is in central america. Trust me. There is a concept of "property lines" but typically delineated though landmarks such as trees, rocks, etc. Zoning is a completely new concept to most countries there.

    Stormwater regulations? What's that? Utility easements? Non-existent. You either own the land or you don't. easements are never part of the picture. There is a reason why it is called the "third world". It's the wild wild west. No one cares (well most don't). Planners there are typically architects that plan and design buildings or PUDs. Selling points are actual design by professionals versus some joe off the street.

    A great example is my parents beach house. I asked my dad how much water costs a month. He just pointed to the well and said, what costs?
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  11. #11
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
    Registered
    Dec 2008
    Location
    the delta
    Posts
    1,203
    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    Buy land and build. Well, at least that's how it is in central america. Trust me. There is a concept of "property lines" but typically delineated though landmarks such as trees, rocks, etc. Zoning is a completely new concept to most countries there.

    Stormwater regulations? What's that? Utility easements? Non-existent. You either own the land or you don't. easements are never part of the picture. There is a reason why it is called the "third world". It's the wild wild west. No one cares (well most don't). Planners there are typically architects that plan and design buildings or PUDs. Selling points are actual design by professionals versus some joe off the street.

    A great example is my parents beach house. I asked my dad how much water costs a month. He just pointed to the well and said, what costs?
    Thanks. So when I see shows on TV selling houses in Costa Rica for $500,000 it's because they have American style development standards - property lines, water retention, sewers, etc? What about in Spain? Surely Barcelona and Madrid are of the developed world. Argentina as well...?
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
    Registered
    Feb 2007
    Location
    As far south of SoCal as I Will Go
    Posts
    5,116
    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    Thanks. So when I see shows on TV selling houses in Costa Rica for $500,000 it's because they have American style development standards - property lines, water retention, sewers, etc? What about in Spain? Surely Barcelona and Madrid are of the developed world. Argentina as well...?
    Land costs in costa rica, el salvador, and panama are huge. Imagine California prices for land due to high demand (or lack of "buildable" lots). Also what they don't show is the price of HOA fees, security, water, and all that other stuff it takes to make the developments.

    The developed Spanish world is much more aligned with US/Europe design standards, but really we as planners deal with spanish speaking immigrants from the 3rd world/developing nations versus the developed nations, hence the disconnect.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  13. #13
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 2009
    Location
    Colo Front Range
    Posts
    2,472
    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    The more skills you can bring to the job the more valuable you will be. Public meetings typically will need people who speak multiple languages. In my area the most valuable are arabic, chinese, spanish, and polish. By knowing a second language you can lead a smaller table size discussion. I wish I had this figured out when I went to college. I took french! While my area is historically French the language has not been spoken commonly for probably 200 years.
    Agreed. If OP can bring them to the table, more power to you.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Sep 2010
    Location
    About 45 minutes southeast of Thibodaux, Lousiana
    Posts
    28
    Thanks for the feedback! I'm definitely going to keep pursuing the language.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    Registered
    May 2005
    Location
    New Town
    Posts
    3,872
    Just to add to what Dan said regarding southern NM - that pattern of folks with Spanish surnames being largely proficient in English (or even not being able to speak it) is certainly true throughout the state for all the old New Spain families. Around here people will distinguish themselves as Spanish New Mexicans (or sometimes "Hispanos") as a subset distinct from "Hispanic" and certainly not "Chinanos/as" which refers specifically to people of Mexican descent or Latinos (which suggests immigration forma Latin American country)

    At the same time, though, we also have a significant and, as regards planning, largely invisible contingency of more recent Mexican immigrants, many of whom do not speak much English. I have noticed in public meetings that this segment of the population is generally very poorly represented. I think there may be many reasons for this - a desire not to stand out, a feeling that as newcomers they are not in a position to make demands on how planning should proceed, etc. But the fact is that, in my town, these folks represent a significant sector of the emerging small business community and, frankly, their input is sorely needed. Anything one can do to appeal to and engage this community is a benefit in my mind. But it will take more than just translating residents' comments to turn them out. More work needs to be done to make them feel confident that their input is welcome by the community at large and the City specifically. That requires a more intense level of engagement.

    So, use your language skills! It is sorely needed. But beyond that, cultural knowledge and understanding will be an increasingly important aspect of planning in areas with large numbers of non-English speaking immigrants.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  16. #16
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2005
    Location
    NYC area
    Posts
    783
    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post

    At the same time, though, we also have a significant and, as regards planning, largely invisible contingency of more recent Mexican immigrants, many of whom do not speak much English. I have noticed in public meetings that this segment of the population is generally very poorly represented. I think there may be many reasons for this - a desire not to stand out, a feeling that as newcomers they are not in a position to make demands on how planning should proceed, etc. But the fact is that, in my town, these folks represent a significant sector of the emerging small business community and, frankly, their input is sorely needed. Anything one can do to appeal to and engage this community is a benefit in my mind. But it will take more than just translating residents' comments to turn them out. More work needs to be done to make them feel confident that their input is welcome by the community at large and the City specifically. That requires a more intense level of engagement.

    So, use your language skills! It is sorely needed. But beyond that, cultural knowledge and understanding will be an increasingly important aspect of planning in areas with large numbers of non-English speaking immigrants.
    It's not just where you are... it's a Sisyphean struggle to get the immigrant Latino community to turn out for ANY meetings, period. The one time where we had some solid success was back when we were drafting our Comp Plan and held a meeting for the affordable housing section of the document. Maslow's Hierarchy at work, I guess. But to be 100% honest, as a planning professional, it has never sat right with me the degree to which public participation has tended to primarily consist of affluent, usually white homeowners in disproportionate numbers to their population within the community. Recent immigrants, renters, and residents under 30-35 are almost always missing. We try to get them out every time but almost always fail.

  17. #17
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
    Registered
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Wishing I were in Asia somewhere!
    Posts
    9,861
    Blog entries
    5
    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    It's not just where you are... it's a Sisyphean struggle to get the immigrant Latino community to turn out for ANY meetings, period. The one time where we had some solid success was back when we were drafting our Comp Plan and held a meeting for the affordable housing section of the document. Maslow's Hierarchy at work, I guess. But to be 100% honest, as a planning professional, it has never sat right with me the degree to which public participation has tended to primarily consist of affluent, usually white homeowners in disproportionate numbers to their population within the community. Recent immigrants, renters, and residents under 30-35 are almost always missing. We try to get them out every time but almost always fail.
    This segment of the community is hard to engage in any consistent way, which I learned from working in Paterson. The problem there was there were numerous factions within the Hispanic community (mostly based on country of origin) and they didn't always want to come together to work out issues in the community. Also not helping was having a divisive Hispanic mayor and several member of city council that only further divided the community.

    That said, being competently conversant in Spanish helped me work with a lot of clients that came through my non-profit's doors especially when it came to tenant rights and foreclosure issues. While my Spanish is not perfect or very elegant, the effort made by me was really appreciated by many of the clients. Sometimes it is a little difficult depending on the person's country of origin because I speak Mexican style Spanish owing to having grown up on the West Coast and having a wonderful teacher who primarily studied in Mexico. One year I had a Spanish teacher from Spain that spoke Castellano. That was an adventure
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  18. #18
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    Registered
    May 2005
    Location
    New Town
    Posts
    3,872
    Quote Originally posted by kjelsadek View post
    That said, being competently conversant in Spanish helped me work with a lot of clients that came through my non-profit's doors especially when it came to tenant rights and foreclosure issues. While my Spanish is not perfect or very elegant, the effort made by me was really appreciated by many of the clients. Sometimes it is a little difficult depending on the person's country of origin because I speak Mexican style Spanish owing to having grown up on the West Coast and having a wonderful teacher who primarily studied in Mexico. One year I had a Spanish teacher from Spain that spoke Castellano. That was an adventure
    And I think making those efforts to communicate and engage with non-English speakers (whatever the language) goes a long way toward letting those populations know that the CIty (or planning at least) is interested in engaging with them, that their opinioons matter and that they are a welcome part of the civic dialogue.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  19. #19
    Member
    Registered
    Mar 2011
    Location
    London, Ontario
    Posts
    18
    Having the ability to speak with as many people as possible is a skill you can never regret. Growing up in Canada, where I took French throughout all of elementary school, I stopped pursuing it at the high school level. Mainly because I never had an opportunity to use it and therefore saw it as useless. Wow, I was wrong. I wish I was able to speak French now. It can open up so many doors, and in a country like Canada were being bilingual is a skill that will open up 100+ career opportunities as opposed to speaking just English...it's something that I will encourage to my children!

+ Reply to thread

More at Cyburbia

  1. Soon to be planner
    Introduce Yourself
    Replies: 8
    Last post: 05 Jan 2008, 10:10 AM
  2. Planner vs senior planner
    Career Development and Advice
    Replies: 8
    Last post: 06 Aug 2007, 9:35 PM
  3. Not a planner
    Introduce Yourself
    Replies: 7
    Last post: 26 Aug 2006, 10:19 AM
  4. Senior Planner vs Planner II?
    Career Development and Advice
    Replies: 12
    Last post: 19 Apr 2005, 10:59 AM
  5. Senior Planner vs Planner II?
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 12
    Last post: 19 Apr 2005, 10:59 AM