Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I learned to speak Spanish as a baby; I learned English later, when my family immigrated to New York City. My mother spoke both languages at home, so I grew up bilingual. Nevertheless, my first encounters with construction-site Spanish made me feel as if I had traveled to a foreign country. This was because many of the techniques used in our building industry — including wood framing, vinyl siding, and drywall — are unique to the United States. To facilitate job-site conversation, Spanish-speaking workers in the U.S. have had to develop local words and expressions that can't be found in conventional Spanish/English dictionaries, making it tough for native Spanish-speakers to understand one another.

It can be even more difficult for an English speaker to learn job-site Spanish. Although you may have aced high school Spanish, I'm sure you never learned vocabulary like rapear (dry wrap this opening) and joistear (roll joists). But if you want to communicate effectively with this rapidly growing segment of the American work force, you'll need...

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