Local News

Spanish Translators Meet Critical Need After Fire

Posted August 21, 2007

— Volunteer, Red Cross and city Spanish translators provided critical help after a fire burned through two apartment buildings in north Raleigh early Monday morning.

The majority of the approximately 22 families made homeless by the fire are Spanish-speaking, Red Cross volunteer Alan McKinney said.

Communication is just as necessary as food and shelter in dangerous situations such as fires or when people have lost their homes and belongings, Red Cross officials said.

"One of the greatest needs of any disaster victim is the need for information. They need that just as much as they need food, clothing and shelter," Rosco Rouse, with the Red Cross, said.

The Red Cross initially sent two volunteer translators to the scene of the fire at Brentwood East Apartments, at 3819 Bonneville Court near New Hope Church Road. El Pueblo, a Hispanic advocacy group, also sent staffers to help translators with the Raleigh police and fire departments.

Outside volunteers showed up to assist with translation efforts at a Red Cross shelter, set up at New Hope Baptist Church on Louisburg Road, Monday night.

Social worker Janie Shivar said the Red Cross put her to work translating when she came to the shelter after getting off her job.

"I read it on the WRAL Web site that there was a need for translators, that there had apparently been very few available on the scene this morning when the fire actually occurred," Shivar said.

Nearly 50 people were staying at the shelter Monday night, seeking food, clothing, shelter and help figuring out what to do next.

While it helps with their immediate physical needs tonight, the Red Cross said it plans to help the fire victims transition into a more permanent living situation for tomorrow night. The charity has already identified some possible apartments for the victims.

"It takes even more time to get information communicated to folks when there's the big language barrier," Shivar said.

Survivors of the fire said they are grateful for the volunteer translators who are making that effort.

"We've gotten excellent help, in particular from the Red Cross and others who have come to help us interpret for our needs," said Pablo Romero, who brought his family to the shelter.

A three-alarm fire ripped through two buildings of Brentwood apartments around 4 a.m. At least 14 of the 22 units involved sustained damage from fire, water or smoke, authorities said.

The fire started on a balcony of one of the apartments, although investigators hadn't determined the cause as of Monday night, fire officials said.

Two people were still being treated for non-life-threatening injuries at local hospitals Monday night.

Despite their loss, Romero said he's thankful that his family is unharmed and is receiving assistance.

"I have a lot of hope, and I'm very grateful to God that we came out of this situation safe," Romero said.


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  • spiderwriter Aug 21, 2007

    John B2102,

    It's not that adults or teenagers are unable to learn a second language. Plenty of them do it relatively easily. But it stops coming AS easily after about six years old. Children are linguistic sponges. They have to be. They soak up words left and right, even if they don't understand the words they're hearing. A child raised bilingually almost always speaks without an accent in both languages; adults who come to second languages later have to work harder to learn, number one, and number two, rarely speak with the comfort and ease that children do. I'm really not saying that to imply that adults are idiots and can't learn. I'm saying it because that's just how the human brain processes language. I'm sure you've seen it for yourself; someone made a comment to this effect earlier on this very page, about immigrants' children needing to translate for them. That's because the kids are bilingual easily and their folks aren't.

  • SL 88 Aug 21, 2007

    >>For every poster here crowing about immigrants learning English, have you ever tried or know a different language? If not, try to learn one, let's see how good you do. I tried, and it's DIFFICULT, to say the least. Remember that.

  • JohnB2012 Aug 21, 2007

    Hola spiderwriter

    "In fact, that ability drops off very sharply around the age of five or six." spiderwriter

    So high school and college age kids have trouble learning a second language? Come on, they do it all the time. I can see the elderly having a problem but the people I referred to earlier are probably in their mid 20's.

  • spiderwriter Aug 21, 2007

    And just to piggyback on my last comment: some people have already pointed out that once you reach a certain age, it's very, very hard to learn a second language. In fact, that ability drops off very sharply around the age of five or six. It's very common for adults to immigrate to a new country and never, in decades of trying, become fluent in the new language or lose their native accent; their children, on the other hand, tend to be bilingual, and THEIR children usually don't speak any of the "mother language" at all. That's just how linguistics works. And that's why it's important for us to know some of that incoming language, so we can *help* adult immigrants to assimilate. Sure, they should make an effort to learn English. But we should be willing to recognize basic cognitive limitations and adjust accordingly.

  • spiderwriter Aug 21, 2007

    I think what a lot of you aren't realizing is that the United States is in a minority of countries where its citizenry isn't bilingual. Many, many European countries make it an educational requisite for children to learn at LEAST two languages; I think in Finland, many of their citizens speak three. Europeans and Asians who've never set foot in an English-speaking country in their lives learn English, because it's the global language of commerce at the moment. Once upon a time, the global language of the educated was German, and before that it was French. Don't complain, just adapt. The Spanish-speakers aren't going anywhere. How about, instead of screaming at them to leave just on principle, you suck it up and make an effort to meet them halfway? They learn some English and you learn some Spanish and everyone can stop being such whiny, illiterate little rednecks.

  • Aruba Aug 21, 2007

    Hey cateye,

    They live here now,they aren't just visiting! If I moved to France I would learn to speak French.

  • Wolfpack Grad Aug 21, 2007

    I dont care if they are legal or not, but the fact of the matter is that most of these posts are correct. Why is the strain being forced on us to learn their language.

    People dont have a choice about being handicapped, therefore we install handicap access to public buildings. People dont have a choice about being born of a certain race, therefore we place safeguards in our society to suppress people from being beligerant towards those minorities.

    However, we do have a choice about what language we speak and if a person is unable or unwilling to accept the fact that its their choice to learn English or not, then they should suffer the repurcussions. Whether these people were illegal or not, illegals everywhere are costing taxpayers millions and this is one more issue we have to deal with

  • zodad Aug 21, 2007

    Excuse me but I wonder how long it will be before we English speaking folks will need an interpreter......With all of this multiculturalism going on I don't know which Berlitz language course to choose, Shall I play pin the tail on the donkey and hope for the best? Glad no one was seriously injured however.....

  • cateye Aug 21, 2007

    Thanks Mr. T., especially when they have been in harms way.

  • alwaysCool Aug 21, 2007

    Hey cateye, I learned 4 by the 5th grade