Bridging the language barrier… without language.

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When it comes to communication, it pays to think smart.

Or rather, thinking smart can keep you from paying….


In reading the book, Inside The Box (favorable review forthcoming from the Libro 52 Challenge), there was a memorable story about smart comunicación.


An American hotel executive travels to Malaysia. As he enters the 5-star hotel at which he was staying – not one of his own – a well-dressed concierge employee warmly greets the man, “Great to see you again, sir. Welcome back!


He was blown away.

He had just walked in the door!

How did they manage to identify him so quickly?


The American exec looks around for cameras, but notices none.


This hotel was far ahead of his own in terms of customer service and technology.


Upon returning home, the man has his team hire a top consulting firm to investigate facial recognition technology. He wants tiny cameras installed in all his hotels. Casino-style software. The exec wants to wow his customers too.


Months later and six figures fewer in free cash flow, the consultants issue their findings. The facial recognition software is expensive: $25M in up-front costs and large fixed costs thereafter. Unless you want to start running casinos in the basement…. not a  good option.


The exec was baffled and disappointed.


Shortly thereafter, the American executive returns to Malaysia on business.

He opts for a different hotel, same ownership.


He walks up to the front desk and….

“We’re so glad you chose to stay with us again. We truly appreciate it!”


The exec smiles warmly, defeated. “OK, I gotta ask you…. How do you know who I am so quickly? What system do you use to identify me as a returning customer?”


The employee leans in and whispers, “Don’t tell anyone… but we pay the taxi drivers $1 to ask during your ride from the airport if you’ve stayed with us before. If Yes, your bags go to the right… If not, they go over there, to the left.”

“That’s it.”   


At Red Angle, we’re in the business of making life easier by bridging the language gap. Teaching Hispanics Construction English and Anglos Construcción Español. We leverage technology & creativity to ensure we’re not disrupting operations. But we’re not for everyone.


There are plenty of ways to skin this gato.


If improved language skills isn’t your bag, don’t assume a solución will cost a lancha-load of money or take a ton of your tiempo.


Think inteligente.

Gather ideas from a wide cross-sección of the jobsite – craft workers, employees, inspectors.


Identify pain points in your operation.

What signals can you use to communicate when más atención is needed between groups with a language barrier?


I’ll certainly argue 1:1 direct comunicación is the most effective, but before you go investing in facial recognition software – or simply doing nothing – look inside the box and see if there is a low-cost ($1 to the taxi driver….) opción right in front of you.




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

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Categories: Construction Spanish

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