- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Job seekers and immigrants have brought a surge of diversity to North Dakota, but the arrival of many new people from diverse native lands often result in a few language gaps.

Its pervasiveness has caused a number of public agencies to seek help: Teachers and police officers are turning to interpreters and Internet translators. Those with aspirations of acclimating to a new culture have been described as dedicated by many - but there are waiting lists for classes in English as a second language. And in some situations, parents cannot turn to their more fluent children for understanding, the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/12p4Mwc ) reported.


Mandan Police Chief Dennis Bullinger and Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin said officers more frequently encounter people who speak limited or no English.

“There is a system out there where we can call a number. It will translate it to the person you are talking to,” Bullinger said. “Last year, we had a Spanish instructor come in and do some basic (lessons) with us in the whole department,” he said. “If we had someone who was a victim of a crime and they don’t speak English, we’ll contact a translator to help.”

A detective and an officer who speak fluent Spanish at the Bismarck Police help with some of the calls, but officers often use an interpreter national/international service over the phone. “We have a visual poster. The individual can point to the language they speak,” Donlin said. “The officer knows he can contact the service whether it’s Arabic, Greek, whatever and start the interpretation. The officer will state what they want to ask the individual. The interpreter will state that. … The interpreter will interpret back in English to the cop.”


Michele Svihovec, director of the English Language Learners Program for the Bismarck School District, said 130 students in the school system don’t speak English - about 100 more than three years ago. Since May, 80 families have joined the school district that don’t speak English in their homes, yet their children might. Students are tested for language proficiency. Those with less language skills will get more lesson time. High school students dedicate a whole school period to learning a new language. Elementary students might be pulled out of class for extra instruction.

Many Arabic refugees were brought in by Lutheran Social Services.

“We’ve probably gotten 10 different (language) populations this summer, but Spanish is the most prevalent. We are not bilingual so we provide our instruction in English anyway. We depend on immersion,” Svihovec said.

More resources and novels are more readily available in Spanish to help high school students. Interpreters are provided to help parents with school paperwork and to meet with school officials.

Svihovec said it’s not just the oil workers who are bringing in more students, but many are being drawn here because of jobs in construction and smaller retail jobs that pay high because of a worker shortage.

“I think the hardest thing is for the regular classroom teachers. (The students) haven’t had English, and, sometimes, it’s a little bit of a struggle because it’s new. We’re trying to find a way to provide staff development,” she said. “Our teachers try to provide individual help.”

The students pick up the language quickly. The program will start them with basic vocabulary, with words such as backpack, desk, chair and food group. High school students go straight to academic words. It’s tougher. They also learn social skills. Teachers turn to Internet translators and computer applications for help. Programs have increased from three to seven teachers and five aides.

“We love the diversity,” Svihovec said.


Sandy Wollan, counselor and adviser for the Adult Learning Center, said the center’s English class has a waiting list of 65. One part-time English instructor is not enough to keep up, she said. The program might seek more funding from the Legislature.

“I could hire four full-time teachers and fill the classes,” she said.

Wollan said students, who may be from Middle Eastern counties and speak Chinese or Mandarin, are dedicated. Many leave an overnight shift at Wal-Mart and go directly to class. Wollan points to a Vietnamese woman who has constantly been practicing, studying and listening to English on headphones. She said many want to advance to the GED program.


Three religious sisters of the Immaculate Mary of Guadeloupe order from Monterey, Mexico, are training for three months at the Mexican-American Catholic College in San Antonio, Texas. They will be missionaries to Spanish-speaking people in the oil patch. The sisters will be based out of Williston but will serve many parishes in western North Dakota. The sisters’ five-year mission is being paid largely by a grant from Catholic Social Services.

“We think, with the sisters coming, it will help people grow with their faith,” the Rev. Russell Kovash said. “It will help in liturgy at masses, helping them with sacramental preparation and in catechism.”

A Spanish-speaking mass, led by Father Joe Evinger, is held at 2 p.m. every second Sunday at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Williston.

Kovash said 60 to 80 people attend. It will be held more frequently, if there is enough demand.

“With the oil boom, there have been a lot of people coming to Williston and Tioga, including the Hispanic population. We need to better reach them,” said Kovash, explaining that many people follow oil jobs and transfer often. “We want to respect their culture. Some of them speak no English at all. Some of their kids have missed out on the sacraments.”

Father Josh Waltz, vocational director of the Bismarck Catholic Diocese, said seminarians now study Spanish so they can be ready to help after ordination.

Stephen Stenehjem, CEO of First International Bank of Watford City, has three Hispanic-speaking workers there to help people open and manage accounts.

“When they speak another language, it’s a plus here,” said Stenehjem, adding there are Spanish-speaking people. “We have been lucky in hiring other people who spoke Mandarin and European languages like Russian.”


Kim Osadchuk, director of the Burleigh County Social Services, said the department uses more interpreters for Spanish-speaking people.

“We have a list of people we can hire from,” she said. “Some are teachers from BSC. If we don’t understand what they need, we can’t help them.”

Meanwhile, Job Service North Dakota Director Phil Davis said most of the translation needs arise for those from third-world countries, although the agency has a person who speaks Spanish in Grafton. Most Hispanics coming to the office are fluent in English, he said. The agency can call an interpretive service in extreme cases, he said. Lutheran Social Service has brought interpreters to the agency for orientation and to explain the application process, he said.


Bev Walth, director of social work case admission coordinator for CHI St. Alexius Health, says the hospital uses a tele-interpreter system to translate for patients. Interpretive video service programs are also being studied. All patients are assessed for language needs when admitted. Some physicians will help translate, if necessary, but only medical staff that is certified to translate medical information will translate. Family members and children may not be able to translate medical information, prescription information or follow-up care. If expanded to interactive video translation, patients might better understand through demonstrations, expressions and body language, she said.

DeeAnn Huss, who oversees patient interpretive services for Sandford Health, said the medical facility uses a certified phone and interactive translator systems on iPads and iPhones.

Patients, who are shown iPads and iPhones, will point on a screen to the language they speak. An interpreter can be contacted through a three-way phone system. Benefits of a video system are that the patient may learn how to properly apply a dressing or maintain a low-sodium diet for Arabic food dishes, she said. Occasionally, individual translators, who meet high language and medical fluency qualifications, are brought in as backup.

“Family members or a child may not know what doctors are saying,” she said.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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