As a construction contractor in the Nashville area, E.G. "Ed" White has come to rely on his hands not just for wielding the saw, hammer and drill, but also for conversation.
The growing number of Spanish-speaking workers on his crew has required White to communicate the best he can with hand gestures and slow, deliberate speech, which can waste precious time when there's a job to be done.
White parlayed his frustration with the language barrier into a business opportunity. He's self-published a book that helps contractors translate common construction commands and phrases into Spanish - with a Spanish-to-English version included as well.
Since the first 500 copies of Lingo Guide for Builders came off the presses a couple of weeks ago, many of White's acquaintances in the industry have been very receptive to the book, said his publicist, Brenna Davenport-Leigh, owner of Hellbender Marketing.
"They want to take the book and look at it, and there's a great curiosity about it because it's something that's so needed," she said.
In the U.S. construction industry, foreign-born Hispanics make up almost 20 percent of the work force, according to the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C. A Pew report released last month stated that 226,000 immigrant Hispanics were added to the construction industry payroll in 2004, amounting to 40 percent of the total growth in employment of 571,000 in the industry that year.
It was not research but instinct that guided White. The Leipers Fork resident has seen the need for language assistance firsthand while remodeling homes in the Nashville area over the past 15 years.
"The idea came when I was working in East Nashville. I was doing an upstairs and the framing crew there was all Hispanic," he said. "I went home one day and asked [his wife] Tina if she'd make up something so I could yak at these folks."
After they developed a small cheat sheet, the light bulb went on: Though there are numerous English-Spanish dictionaries and phrase guides, why not develop one specifically for the construction trade?
White and his wife labored over the book for four years, gathering more than 600 words and 550 common construction phrases. They translated them into Spanish - and included phonetic pronunciations - with the help of Diana Holland, owner of Hispanic Links Consulting in Nashville.
"When we first started, there was not much to this book. It was a little old itty-bitty thing. Since that point, we've said, 'Let's just make a nice book.' A lot of money and time has gone into this thing," White said.
The 150-page, spiral-bound, pocket-sized guide is organized by loose categories, such as demolition/cleanup, dry wall, electrical, masonry, plumbing and roofing.
Readers are guided through phrases ranging from the conversational, "How are you today?" ("C