At Red Angle, we’re always on the lookout for success stories – examples of English-speaking construction pros who learned Spanish to lead and manage more effectively.
Ladd Henley is one such example.
Upon learning Ladd is involved with the Dallas Cowboys, you may assume he’s actually on the team.
But spend more than 5 minutes with him and his most impressive skill is his fluency in Spanish.
He sounds downright native.
Considering Capform’s largely Hispanic workforce – 2000 strong at the moment – Henley’s Spanish skills are on display as much as his English skills. We caught up with Henley recently for a quick Q&A.
How did you get into construction?
I am the son of a Union boilermaker, pipefitter, and welder, so you can say I was destined to become a welder out of high school. My summers from school were spent as a plumber’s helper, welder’s helper and general laborer.
How did you learn Spanish?
I failed Spanish my sophomore year of high school due to my own reasoning “I live in America, I don’t need Spanish.” Then I began my career in construction and had to listen to Spanish workers talking and laughing. In my frustration I decided to start studying on my own at a book store, then made a few friends who did not speak any English and later moved off to Queretaro, Mexico for five years. There is where I became very fluent.
I bet. How often do you use Spanish on the job?
Daily, often all day.
How has Spanish benefitted you personally?
I have been interviewed for several positions that many of the candidates had better professional resumes and college degrees, but I landed the job. I always say “In construction safety you can have more degrees than a thermometer, but if you cannot communicate with the workers, your knowledge will be useless.”
How do the Spanish-speakers feel about a Spanish-speaking gringo like yourself?
It’s the best ice breaker ever. They will pay attention to you for a few minutes simply listening how you speak Spanish. They become endeared to you quickly, more so if you start telling them stories of your travel and how you learned the language.
What advice do you have for Construction Spanish learners?
Be humble. And fearless. You will not learn if you are scared of making mistakes. If you are scared of being laughed at, you will give up within a month. You will find new and creative ways to butcher the language. Learn to laugh at your mistakes. Trust me, if there is a way to mess up the language, I have done it. The more embarrassing the mess up, the more completely I recall the experience and the mistake is never repeated.
What’s your favorite Spanish one-liner?
A Spanish proverb about bad associations…
Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.
Tell me with whom you walk and I will tell you who you are.
What should language learners know about the Hispanic culture on the job?
1. With regard to safety, never assume they have been trained and never assume they understand the risks. At best the workers were presented a video on safety. As a bonus, sometimes the video will be in their language! More than likely they signed a sheet stating they have been trained.
2. NEVER discuss how much money you make, they make or anybody makes. Discussing money on the jobsite can cause problems.
3. If they offer you a taco at break time… accept the taco! You will not regret it unless they spice it up with “chiles” just to see a gringo cry.
What are your 3 favorite words or phrases in Spanish?
1. Parangaricutirimicuaro – This is by far my favorite word because it took me so long to learn. My students in Mexico would say this word (which is a name of a lost city in Michoacan) and make me repeat it just to watch me struggle, always ending in laughter. Pretty sure they were not laughing WITH me.
2. A phrase I taught my father, who was frustrated with all the Hispanics speaking around him and in his opinion “about him.”
“No seas ridiculo, piensas que eres el único que habla Español?”
Don’t be ridiculous, do you think you are the only one who speaks Spanish?
He memorized it and practiced the pronunciation dozens of times.
He’d rattle it off just to keep the guys on their toes.
3. “Lei que el tomar es malo, entonces deje de leer!”
I read that drinking is bad for you, so I gave up reading!
Good stuff – any last thoughts?
There is a saying that has held true in my career, “He that knows two languages is worth two people.”
No one has ever said “Awww, man! I wish I didn’t know this many languages!”
Learn more about Ladd Henley at www.linkedin.com/pub/ladd-henley/20/371/468
As for Bradley Hartmann, he is founder and El Presidente at Red Angle (www.redanglespanish.com), a training, consulting and eLearning firm bridging the English-Spanish language gap in the construction industry.
Categories: Construction Spanish