Micro-fluency :: Sí se puede!

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Working at my second office yesterday (Starbucks), two latino twenty-somethings and their language choices caught my attention.


They were jumping back and forth between English and Spanish constantly. They’d use English to discuss the details of a school project. Then one would switch to Spanish to make fun of the other guy’s jeans.


They’d alternate languages in the middle of individual sentences.


English noun + English adjective + Spanish verb + English slang + Spanish swear word.

It was interesting to listen in on.


There’s a term for this: Code-switching.


Code-switching applies when two or more people speak multiple languages and intermix them on the fly. But what about when two or more people speak different languages and intermix them on the fly… what’s that called?


Usually… confusion.

But not always.



I know several construction managers who are bilingual in very specific situations.

They know a handful of words – maybe 50 to 100 – that are applied with confidence only in certain situations.


They have achieved a level of Micro-fluency.

Micro-fluency is fantástico – it can add another dimension to your managerial and leadership skills.


Language isn’t All or Nothing.

Aim for micro-fluency.



I know a landscape manager who is micro-fluent. He has mastered Landscape Spanish.

If it’s related to his job managing his crews, he knows how to speak Spanish.


Retaining walls.




Jokes about angry customers with dead sod.

Maintenance equipment.


Swear words.


He is micro-fluent in this arena.


Make a joke in Spanish about the Chicago Cubs and he’ll look at you with a straight face and say, “No dude. I only speak Landscape Spanish.”


I knew an angry old hunchback roofer named Donny.

Donny was micro-fluent in Roofing.

He managed ten roofing crews. They predominantly spoke Spanish, so he became micro-fluent in Roofing Spanish.


Architectural shingles.


Ice & Water Shield.




Ridge vents.

Weather conditions.


If it affected roofers, he knew how to say it in Spanish.


Ask him in Spanish if he’d ever been to Mexico and he’d deadpan, “I don’t speak Spanish. Knock it off.”

Donny was micro-fluent in the Roofing Arts. It was a valuable skill to him, his men and his company.



Think about your job.



Is there one aspect of your job where the language barrier causes more pain than others?

Maybe it’s paint & drywall?


If so, become micro-fluent in paint & drywall.

100 specific terms relating to paint & drywall will take you far.


Start with this phrase:

Cómo se dice…

KOH-moh say DEE-say

How do you say…

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Point at something you want to learn and say: Cómo se dice.

In response you’ll get a nuevo Spanish vocabulary word.

Write it down.

Practice it.

Repeat as necessary until you reach Micro-fluency in about 60-90 days.



Take it a step further by downloading this app.




It’s very good and very free.



Don’t underestimate your ability to become micro-fluent.

It will help you solve problems and build relationships.

It will also give you something unique on your LinkedIn profile.

And if we see each other at Starbucks, you will impress me when I eavesdrop on your conversación.



Bradley Hartmann is founder and El Presidente at Red Angle (www.redanglespanish.com), a  training and consulting firm bridging the English-Spanish language gap in the construction industry. 


Categories: Construction Spanish

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2 replies

  1. Good post, muchacho, buena suerte!

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