by demystifying: McCarthy's story
By Marcela Flores Iga
Arthut M. McCarthy is the English Teacher for 25 immigrants.
Arthur M. McCarthy hasn’t just witnessed
the transition of East Boston over the last decade as Latin American
have transformed the neighborhood. The East Boston police sergeant
has helped bridge cultures, teaching Spanish to police officers
and English to new immigrants.
McCarthy moved to his wife’s homeland of
Puerto Rico in the 1980s after being laid off in police department
“I not only learned the language, but I fell in love with
the culture,” he said of his time there as an assistant manager
for the Caribbean Hilton Hotel.
So it made sense, after he returned to the Boston
Police Department a decade ago, that his career would lead him
to East Boston. Three
years ago that’s just what happened.
as he began to patrol the neighborhood that is now the destination
of much of the city’s
rapidly growing Hispanic population, he was surprised to learn
that 90 percent of police officers there didn’t know a word
“East Boston has changed so much,” McCarthy said. “It
started as a mainly Italian community. A few years ago there was
a substantial Asian community, but now the majority is from Latin
America, mainly from Colombia and El Salvador.”
Teaching Spanish to police officers
manual cover: "A unique Method for teaching a
simple yet effective way to communicate where language barriers
With the change of demographics, came a gap of
culture. The language barrier generated conflicts of misunderstanding,
Minor infractions sometimes flared into major altercations between
police and people in the community who literally couldn’t
understand each other.
“Communication became the real problem,” he
McCarthy started giving Spanish lessons to officers
at the Boston Police Academy. With the help of a colleague from
University, he designed a reference manual to teach Spanish to
officers as part of a program of the Boston Police Academy. “I
call it the ALLM or Anticipatory Language Learning Method.”
"Spanish is now the primary language spoken
in the homes of more than 30million people residing in
the United States.
this material is designed to provide law enforcement personnel
with the tools to improve communication that will help create
partnerships between the police and the community…
This method emphasizes pronunciation, listening skills, and
control through role playing and guided situations
The first introduction to language is sound. To achieve success,
A.L.L. suggests the following: practice, practice,
method is based on his belief that communication begins even
before someone opens his or her mouth. For him, everything
starts in the moments before a police officer approaches a
If the officer feels the tension of knowing he’s not going
to be able to communicate, then the “adrenaline and frustration” build
up, which can be ingredients for disaster, he said.
is about preventing loss of control … it’s not grammar
or spelling … It’s only about pronunciation, phonetics
Spanish manual focuses on a practical approach. It emphasizes pronunciation,
listening skills through
and giving police references that are quick and useful sources
for handling specific situations.
If, for example, a police officer pulls a car over, he may look
for phrases classified under traffic situations and find this:
Do you have a license?
Not only is the right close-ended question laid out but so is
a guide to its phonetic pronunciation.
This way, McCarthy said every officer can feel
prepared and confident enough to approach a Spanish-speaking
person in any given situation. “It’s
normal for people to be surprised when they hear an officer talking
in Spanish, but they really appreciate it and become more comfortable
Arthur McCarthy reviews vowel pronunciation with his
Teaching English to Immigrants
However, he knew this wasn’t enough. Three
years ago, he also started to give English lessons to immigrants
as part of a
14-week program. McCarthy used the same approach: no grammar, no
spelling, just phonetics and phrases to use in everyday life, at
work, in the supermarket, with the lawyer, at the hospital.
Although his program has had a good response, the
first year he didn’t know what to expect.
McCarthy wanted to encourage people to attend despite their immigration
status so he started promoting it at the local churches, so people
could overcome their fear of approaching the police. That way he
gained a sense of trust and a stronger bond.
“Half of my students don’t have documents. They know
I know. They know I won’t ask them about it,” he said.
The attendance, however, has remained uneven. “It is hard
because people are struggling between two, three or more jobs…they
are just too tired to go to class or they just didn’t have
the time,” McCarthy said.
He also had to consider the weather issue, which may seem trivial,
but can be a factor for those moving from a mild to a much colder
“I decided to start classes in November. It was a mistake.
By January only three students were going to class and they were
freezing. No more classes in November, only during warm weather.
Latinos love warm weather,” he said.
Finally, to maintain the attendance he decided to give classes
one night each week, when the majority was more likely to be off
from work and when he had free time. He also found it was effective
to charge for the classes.
“You get nothing for nothing,” he said. “But
when people invest money, they show more commitment.”
This year, each of the 25 students will pay $75 and all the money
goes to pay for the use of space inside a local school, for the
books and other materials as well as for the staff involved in
Over the years, the program and his method has
been adapted to fit the students needs, he said, in a trial-and-error
can’t assume anything,” he said. “I am constantly
reinventing it.” He has gone from a traditional testing method
to a “cooperative learning experience,” in which the
students who know more help others learn more too.
There are no grades, he said. McCarthy knows that
someone has learned when he or she can initiate a conversation
He teaches by asking questions and repeating phrases “until
pronounced to perfection.”
Teaching Spanish to American businessmen
of the East Boston Chamber of Commerce announced new
services to businessmen in the neighborhood. Among those,
Recently, McCarthy has designed a 10-week program to teach Spanish
to business people of East Boston. He started with a group of 25
people. The Logan Airport Embassy Suites Hotel provided a space
for the classes free of charge. The classes are part of a service
provided by the East Boston Chamber of Commerce to business that
are already registered as members and pay an annual fee.
Our community is changing. New strong businesses owned by Hispanic
people are growing… They are our friends, our neighbors but
we can’t communicate with them,” said Diane Modica,
Director of the EBCC.
The goal is to integrate East Boston to the changing business culture,
so every business has better chances to generate growth and stability,
said Emily Haber, Director of Boston Main Streets.