What high school theology taught me about Spanish.

January 16, 2013


I attended a Catholic high school. 
Morning prayers. 
Mass injected into random school days.
And theology classes.   
It was during a junior year theology class that clarified my philosophy on the Spanish language.
One afternoon a fellow classmate candidly pronounced his agnosticism to our teacher/priest. There were some Ooohs and Ahhhs before an awkward silence. 
The class didn’t exactly know what that meant (FYI: Agnostics cannot confirm nor deny the existence of any one deity. They just don’t know.). The teacher/priest didn’t exactly know how to respond to this unexpected update. 
“OK,” the teacher/priest began slowly “let’s view this from a gambling perspective, let’s consider the odds.” 
This too was unexpected. 
With several young degenerate gamblers in the class, he had our attention.   
“Let’s say you do believe in God. One day you die. You find out there is no God after all. OK. No harm, no foul. At least you gave it a shot. But if there is a God… Welcome to the party of everlasting life, my friend! You chose wisely.” 
Big pause. 
Teacher/priest then extended his arms out wide, fingers spread apart. 
He was building to the climax.   
“Now think about if you choose not to believe in God. You die. No God. OK. No biggie. But if you don’t believe and there is a God - Whoa. Uh-oh. Not good. You missed the boat. What an opportunity to miss.”
“So… play the odds. Believe in God.” 
I have no idea if this probabilistic theological reasoning is taught in the nunnery or if this guy went rogue with the underlying rationale here. Whatever. 
The point that stuck with me is the importance of understanding what you have to lose.
What’s the cost of not doing something?
Identifying this inaction cost applies to Spanish on the jobsite too. At Red Angle I meet construction types every week who know more Spanish than they give themselves credit for.  
They know Spanish that can really help them on the job. 
A couple of Introductions. 
A handful of questions.
A few commands. 
22 swear words. 
If they used the little Spanish they knew, they could really help themselves.
But the fear of looking dumb holds them back. 
As my theology teacher/priest did, I ask these individuals to think of the odds.
If you know some Spanish and never use it, you’ll never know how big of an opportunity you miss - each and every day - by not connecting with workers on your job. 
If you do try speaking Spanish, one of two things will happen. 
Uno: your Spanish will confuse the worker. You'll just stare at each other in confusion, like you do now. You’ll be back where you started; on either side of the language gap. No harm done. At least you tried.
Or Dos: (arms extended wide, fingers spread apart) You do speak Spanish and it works.
Then what? 
Personal development.
New relationship made. 
Made the worker feel important. 
Can now obtain a different cultural perspective.        
(And you can ask what they’ve been saying about you.) 
Tomorrow we’ll hand-deliver some easy, yet powerful Construction Spanish phrases you can put to the test immediately.  
Lord knows where this will lead for you….
El Presidente

Bradley Hartmann is El Presidente of Red Angle, a Spanish language training firm focused exclusively on the construcción industry. Hartmann has been successful improving Safety, Productivity and Profitability by speaking Spanish on the jobsite. Hartmann lived in Guadalajara, México, during his undergraduate studies and later earned his MBA. Hartmann also teaches Construction Spanish at Purdue University’s Building Construction Management Program. He has authored two books: Spanish Twins: Start Speaking Spanish on the Construction Site with Words You Already Know and Safety Spanish: Simple Spanish Skills for Solving Safety Problems. Hartmann would love to hear your thoughts digitally at bradley@redanglespanish.com or at 630.234.7321.