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City Halls embarks on Spanish pilot program

After successfully completing a pilot program teaching Spanish to some Boston City Hall employees, the mayor’s office is considering expanding the program.

In light of the success of the program, Emilee Ellison, spokeswoman for Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, said the city is considering expanding the program deeper into its work force.

“We would definitely like to expand the program,” Ellison said. “We are just looking for the next best time to do this, and considering the next group of employees.”

Ellison said the two-day Spanish pilot program was completed Jan. 17 and that participants received comprehensive feedback late last week. “It was a huge success,” she said. “All of the employees were able to relate back about their positive experiences.”

Menino supported the program, saying in a statement that having more Spanish-speaking officials could help reduce the language barrier.

About 15 percent of Boston residents speak Spanish, according to the statement.

“City Hall should be accessible to every Boston resident, regardless of the language they speak,” he said in a statement Jan. 17. “This is one more step toward continuing to improve the customer service experience at City Hall, and expanding our outreach to the growing population of Spanish-speaking Bostonians.”

Thirteen Boston employees from the Registry Division, Election Department, Emergency Shelter Commission, Department of Neighborhood Development and the Mayor’s 24-Hour Hotline were the first participants in the pilot program, according to a press release.

A number of visitors to City Hall said the pilot program was a good idea. Tim Bullock, 64, of Leverett said the program highlights the true purpose of public service.

“Speaking another language is all about learning to connect with other people,” he said.  “City Hall is a public service and that is what public service is all about. If enough people speak the language then city hall has the responsibility to accommodate them. After all, they are still taxpayers.”

Ben Floyd, 19, a student at Lesley University, said the program made City Hall more accommodating of language diversity.

“I think having Spanish as a second language is a good idea,” he said. “Some people are just more comfortable speaking Spanish, and within City Hall it is important to be able to communicate with everyone who comes in.”

Sister Clare Carter, a nun and Boston resident, expressed approval of the program.

“The whole structure of public service exists to help people, and if we come from a place of consciousness and heart we will appreciate other languages and culture,” she said.

Anil Patel, 41, an IT professional from Texas, said he approved of the program, but was skeptical of the choice to teach solely Spanish. “It’s a good idea,” he said. “Obviously the language choice will always have to depend on the population here in the city though — it may change.”

Special Officer Paul Manning of the Municipal Police Service said the program reflected the cultural diversity of the city.

“This is such a multi-cultural city,” he said. Anything the city can do to help the people and to make it feel more welcoming than it already is — I think it is a great idea.”

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