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The Washington Post reports that the Wegmans store near Dulles Airport in Virginia is offering “a Web-based version of its safety and sanitation courses in Mandarin and Spanish, in addition to English -- just one nod the supermarket says it is making to a multilingual workplace in which more than 200 of its 650 employees do not speak English as their primary language.”

It is an enormous challenge – at one point in the story, the store manager surveys a line of checkout people whose first languages include Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, Hindi and Urdu. And there are a variety of different and compelling reasons for smoothing out the communications rough spots – these people have to work together, they need to adhere both to company policies and federal safety regulations, and they need to be able to communicate with customers – the latter extremely important in a Wegmans store, where talking to customers isn’t just possible, but actually encouraged.

“The challenges of managing a multicultural workforce have spawned a cottage industry of outside consultants, in-house specialists, book and magazine publishers, and others,” the Post writes. For example, “Wegmans has retained language instructors for its Dulles and Fairfax stores to teach their employees a bit more English and their managers un poco Espaol .

The Post also writes that “at the Dulles store, managers often rely on interpreters -- usually bilingual managers -- to assist with job interviews and employee training and counseling sessions. When bilingual managers can't be found, relatives of the employees and job seekers are pressed into service.”

The good news, according to Wegmans officials, is that many of these immigrants are willing to take jobs that English-speaking US citizens don’t want…and they may be more loyal about staying and growing with the company as their language skills improve.
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