Spanish as a second language

¿Como se dice esto en Español?

(How do you say this in Spanish?)

Hispanic construction workers talking outside

Hispanic workers talk with Ed Jaselskis.

To help bridge a growing communication gap between English- and Spanish-speaking workers in the Iowa highway construction industry, two new training resources are available for English-speaking supervisors of Spanish-speaking crew members:

  • Spanish as a Second Language (SSL) Survival Course
  • Concrete Pavement Construction Basics (CPCB) Courses

An ISU research team led by Ed Jaselskis, associate professor of construction engineering, modified the English as a Second Language (ESL) Survival Course the team developed last year into the two new courses. Both the SSL Survival Course and the CPCB Courses teach construction-related Spanish language skills to English-speaking construction supervisors. The project was completed with funding from the Iowa DOT.

Course content

The SSL Survival Course and the CPCB Courses are structured around three principles:

  1. Awareness briefly introduces industry risks, accident rates, workforce demographic changes, and diversity issues.
  2. Skill building teaches new adjustments and behaviors for better supervision of Hispanic crews.
  3. Action planning develops problem solving and process improvement activities.

The SSL Survival Course teaches practical Spanish to American supervisors in four segments:

  1. Meaning of a construction-related vocabulary word or phrase in Spanish.
  2. Meaning in English.
  3. Pronunciation in Spanish.
  4. A picture of the word or phrase as a visual aid.

The CPCB Courses follow a similar format, but are divided into 12 modular subtopics focused on quickly meeting the American supervisors' specific technical needs. The 12 subtopics include, among others, training in materials, jointing, and safety.

Workplace safety

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Iowa's Hispanic population increased 153 percent between 1990 and 2000. At the same time, labor shortages in Iowa and other states have encouraged organizations to turn to the growing population of Hispanic workers.

In 2004, Hispanic workers made up 21.4 percent of the construction industry workforce across the United States. While that number continues to grow, Hispanics account for the highest number of workplace fatalities among all racial/ethnic groups, and foreign-born Hispanics account for a higher proportion of workplace fatalities than native-born Hispanics.

Hispanics are overrepresented in fatality and injury data in large part due to significant linguistic and cultural differences between English- and Spanish-speaking workers. A survey of foreign-born Hispanic workers, however, revealed that they often lack the basic literacy skills required to fully understand the training materials of an ESL course. Therefore, the two new courses help bridge the communication gap by training English-speaking supervisors in basic Spanish language skills.

For more information

To bring the Spanish as a Second Language Survival Course or the Concrete Pavement Construction Basics Courses to your crew supervisors, contact Ed Jaselskis, 515-294-0250,

Jaselskis and Fernando Aveiga Alcivar, a graduate student in International Development Studies, teach the CPCB Courses, while Aveiga Alcivar teaches the SSL Survival Course. Powerpoint slides of materials for both courses are also available from the ISU Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering.

For additional information, contact Ed Jaselskis, associate professor of civil engineering, ISU, 515-294-0250,, or Charles Jahren, associate professor of civil engineering, ISU, 515-294-3829, See the research project.