For emergency medical responders, a typical day on the job is anything but typical.

“I respond to 911 emergency calls in a very busy system,” said Travis McSherry, a critical care transport paramedic. “I provide a wide range of medical emergency care to people such as childbirth, mental health issues, multi-system trauma, general medical, respiratory and cardiac issues.”

McSherry works for American Ambulance, which covers most of Fresno and Kings counties.

According to United States Census 2018 American Community Survey, about 15% of residents in Fresno and Kings counties are Spanish speakers who speak little to no English*. For those emergency services professionals, trying to help a patient in an emergency while working through a language barrier can add to the complexity of the situation. In addition, COVID-19 has added to the overall stress.

“When you have to wear all that personal protective equipment that is hot, it makes it difficult to talk and breathe. Mentally, there is also the stress of policies that are changing every day, both in my company and every location we work with,” said McSherry. “All under the threat of, ‘do this wrong and you’ll get infected.’”

With this in mind, the Division of Continuing and Global Education at Fresno State introduced a series of free online classes for essential workers — including Functional Spanish for Emergency Medical Responders.  The Hub for Language Teaching and Learning (The Hub) created the course. It is broken into 10 units taught online and asynchronous — meaning it is self-paced and the students can complete the units around their work schedules.

“I had been looking for a class like this to help me out when a translator is not available, so I jumped at the chance,” said McSherry.

Carolyn Bentley PT, DPT, agreed, “When I saw that Fresno State was offering a Spanish class for emergency responders and health care professionals, I knew I needed to sign up.”

Bentley is a traveling doctor of physical therapy who is currently working as a per diem physical therapist at Community Regional Medical Center. An alumna of Fresno State, she takes temporary physical therapy contracts while she travels around the country.

Bentley admits her Spanish communication skills are limited. Before starting the class, she was trying to learn Spanish from her patients.

Dr. Jaydene Elvin, linguistics professor, and The Hub coordinator says the course is unique because it focuses on listening and speaking keywords and phrases that apply directly to their job rather than focusing on grammar.

“They won’t come out of the course fluent in Spanish. They won’t be able to go and order something at the restaurant or anything like that,” said Elvin. “They will be able to take away keywords and phrases that they can use at the scene to facilitate a conversation with Spanish-speaking patients.”

The lessons use voices recorded by Fresno State language students from the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, which adds variety and better simulates real-world scenarios.

“I have enjoyed the way the class is specifically broken down as if running a call,” said McSherry. “It is also helpful how the proper form is presented, then a focused, abbreviated version.”

With just half the course complete, both McSherry and Bentley say they have already used what they learned in the online class.

“Within five units, I have already learned how to better communicate with my patients and provide them improved care,” said Bentley.

Elvin said The Hub plans to develop courses in more languages for emergency medical responders.

In addition to the Spanish course, Continuing and Global Education offered free “Project Management for the Workplace” and “Teaching Online” courses for essential workers. The virtual classes were open to all essential workers, including grocery store employees, food service providers or janitorial staff, certified or licensed healthcare professionals, or first responders such as EMT, paramedic, police, fire, correctional or probation officers.

The Hub is a newly formed community space for language teaching, training and development. The center draws on the rich language resources of the Central Valley, both within the community and within the university.

*Based on combined Fresno County and Kings County 2018 American Community Survey, Language Spoken at Home by Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 Years and Over (Hispanic or Latino) respondents who spoke English “Not at All” or “Not Well.”