48 International L.A./We Speak Your Language
LOS ANGELES a With immigrants from more than 140
countries calling Los Angeles home, the "new Ellis Island" could have easily become the modern day Babel. But instead of creating constant confusion, L.A.'s linguistic salad bowl serves as a bridge that can welcome foreign visitors to the area in their native tongue, even if it happens to be Tagalog.
And, because they're located in a city that hosts about 5.3 million international visitors annually, many Southern California businesses that cater to tourists have found that it makes sense (and dollars) to hire employees who are at least bilingual, if not fluent in several languages.
"A high percentage of our tourism base is from outside the United States, and many visitors have few or no English skills," said Evette Caceres, Marketing Director at the Beverly Center, a popular shopping mall near Beverly Hills. "Obviously you want them to have a good experience here."
Caceres recalled how when she first visited Japan, she
"couldn't believe the language barrier I felt as an English speaker."
To alleviate such difficulties for foreign visitors,
the Beverly Center has instituted a number of innovations. Employees throughout the 160-store mall speak a total of 43 different languages; multilingual personnel wear color-coded buttons, and a list of them and other foreign-language services are available at the mall's sixth-level Customer Information Center.
Los Angeles residents speak some 96 different languagesaeverything from Farsi to Korean to Urdu (an official language in Pakistan). They provide a steady supply of potential translators for destinations on L.A.'s tourist track.
To get the lay of the land from an official source,
foreign tourists can stop by the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau's main Visitor Information Center at 685 S. Figueroa St. in Downtown, or its satellite Hollywood center at 6541 Hollywood Blvd. At either spot, visitors can pick up brochures and maps printed in six different languagesaEnglish, Japanese, French, German, Italian or Spanishaand filled with basic information about Los Angeles.
Representatives of the LACVB, most of whom are fluent
in a language other than English, also have information on foreign-language tours and other useful tips for visitors. "Our job is to make sure that anyone who comes to Los Angeles from anywhere goes home with wonderful memories," said Keiko Garrison, LACVB's manager of visitor services.
One popular tour operator, Oskar J's Tours of Sherman
Oaks, caters to tourists from all over the world, offering foreign-language tours in Italian, French, German, Japanese, English and, by the end of 1996, Chinese. Popular tours take in movie star homes, Universal Studios, Disneyland, Beverly Hills, beach communities and other attractions. The Oskar J Red Car Trolley, a trackless, natural-gas-powered replica of L.A.'s long-defunct Red Car trolley, is expected to open in June, running every half hour from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Connecting L.A.'s main attractions from Downtown to Hollywood, the trolleys will carry bilingual tour guides.
According to the United States Travel and Tourism
Assn., more than 88 percent of international travelers coming to the U.S. rate shopping as their No. 1 preferred activity. Foreign visitors spend an estimated $3.6 billion in Los Angeles, nearly 30 percent of that on shopping.
To help foreign visitors shop, the Glendale Galleria
offers brochures that give basic information about the mall and some of its most popular tenants in three languagesaEnglish, Spanish and Japanese.
Also, many merchants in the mall produce catalogs and other advertising in various languages including Chinese and Armenian. And among the merchants, more than 15 different languages are spoken, according to Deborah Blackford, marketing director for the mall.
"The Galleria's patronage is ethnically diverse," said Blackford. "We want to make everyone feel comfortable. This is a customer service."
At Universal Studios Hollywood, where "Jaws," "ET" and the Alfred Hitchcock classic "Psycho" were filmed, about a third of the 5 million annual visitors hail from foreign lands, with Japan, Canada, Taiwan, England and Australia at the top of the list, an official there said. And despite recent economic woes in Mexico, a significant number of tourists still arrive from that country to join Spanishspeaking L.A. residents visiting the theme park.
Universal offers foreign-language tours in Spanish,
German, French and Japanese, with Korean tours planned in the near future. At stores, restaurants and rides throughout the park, employees speak a variety of languages. Several performancesasuch as "WaterWorld," a live-action stunt show based on the Kevin Costner film, and "The Flintstones," a Broadway-style musical revue loosely based on the filmaare presented in both English and Spanish.
Dodger fans around the world need not even come to Los Angeles to find out news of this decidedly international team, whose major and minor leagues include players from 14 different countries. All they need do is sign on to the Internet web site at http:\\www.dodgers.com to read news about the team in five different languages. For the Japanese, there's a Nomomania page, with updates on their hometown pitching ace, Hideo Nomo, and Korean fans can access on-line information about pitcher Chan Ho Park. With the Dodgers' five starting pitchers representing five different countriesaMexico, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Korea and the U.S.ait's no wonder that when foreign visitors do come to town, Dodger Stadium is a favorite destination.
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