Natalie Morales, The Enquirer
and The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE - A group of Louisville police officers is learning the Spanish language as the city's Hispanic population grows rapidly.
On Tuesday, the group of 19 officers, detectives and sergeants sat in their final class of the police department's first Advanced Language Spanish Program.
"After 28 weeks they can communicate completely in another language - that's fascinating," said their instructor, Jose Alfaro. "Some of them are not comfortable speaking yet like the others, but they have their vocabulary."
Such classes are ongoing in Northern Kentucky.
Local officers advance their workplace Spanish in classes at Gateway Community and Technical College in Covington.
The classes offered at Gateway are shorter, only six weeks, but still provide an outlet for professionals - including police officers and firefighters - to practice dialogs and expressions to use on the job.
"If they haven't had Spanish, first of all it is important to raise their comfort level in speaking it," said Phil Accardi, Gateway's Business and Industrial Services workforce development liaison. "I've discovered that once they make that breakthrough, there's no stopping them."
The Covington Fire Department took advantage of the program in the spring to help firefighters increase their ability to interact with Spanish speakers.
"The focus of the classes is not on learning the complete language, but on becoming efficient and confident in using the expressions," Accardi said.
Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties had 4,136 Hispanic residents at the time of the last Census in 2000, more than three times the 1,239 Hispanic residents in the area in during the 1990 Census.
All of the Louisville officers have come a long way from eight months ago, when only a few of the classmates could count to 10 in Spanish, Alfaro said.
Their training will be capped by a trip to Mexico, where they will spend up to five weeks immersed in the culture and language, thanks to an $80,000 federal grant.
The Louisville Metro Office of International and Cultural Affairs estimates there are more than 35,000 Hispanics living in the area. But a survey taken last year showed that only 17 of the 1,200 officers on the police force said they were comfortable speaking the language.
The class, which met three days a week for two hours, was designed for those with no knowledge of the language.
Officers built skills through intensive course work, quizzes, tests and vocabulary drills, said Dr. Fred de Rosset, who helped design the program.
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