City Of Burien Says: “Aquí Se Habla Español”

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by Ralph Nichols

Aquí se habla español.

Translation: “Spanish spoken here.”

And these words could be a message from the City of Burien to the members of its growing Spanish-speaking community.

That’s because Burien recently added a Spanish-language phone line for people who call city hall (the direct # is 206-436-5556).

Here’s an audio sample of it (click the “Play” button below):


“If it’s well publicized, I think it will prove to be very useful and be well received by Latino residents,” says Spanish translator Kenneth Barger – the “voice” of the Spanish line.

This line can help bring members of the Latino community into the “mainstream” of the larger local community, Barger says, especially “if it is part of a broader effort, as is the case with the translated documents available in Burien, the [city’s] new radio station with Spanish material, and the bilingual newsletter.

“Of particular importance is the practical information for emergencies, crime prevention, and so forth” that the line offers Spanish-speaking residents, “because a community is only safe when all of its members are safe.

The Spanish line is available both to people who call the city’s 24/7 information line (206-241-4647, or directly at 206-436-5556) and press “2” at the prompt, and those who call city hall during business hours and request certain information in Spanish.

The line’s five Spanish-language information categories are:

  1. Business licenses
  2. Permits
  3. Reduced cable television rates
  4. How to file a citizen-action reques
  5. Community information, which includes:
    1. Emergency preparedness
    2. Free Burien shuttle
    3. English-Spanish conversational group
    4. Crime prevention Block Watch
    5. Citizenship/naturalization preparedness
    6. Pets

Carolyn Towle, a city accountant who also manages its communications systems, said the idea for a Spanish line originated with the city’s Communications Committee.

Last spring, says Towle, she was approached by members of the city’s Communication’s Committee, who suggested that answers in Spanish be provided for commonly asked questions received at the front desk.

At that time, she had to say no. The city’s existing communications technology could not support the system they wanted for it. But upgrades made as part of the move into the new Burien City Hall/Library building last June made it possible.

“I went back after the move and said, ‘OK, we’ve got the technology now and I’d like to move forward with it,’” Towle says. Next, “I want to the gals at the front desk and they put together a two-page list, a script, of the frequently asked questions” they wanted answered in Spanish.

They then talked with Steve Botkin, a public relations consultant for the city, who provided ideas for the Spanish line including incorporating it with Burien’s public radio station (540 AM).

“This line is for information only,” Towle notes. “There is no voice mail for callers to leave messages for city staff.”

Barger adds, “This part of the county has an even greater Latino population than elsewhere in the state, so if anyone is going to offer such a service, it’s great that it’s here. This sort of welcoming gesture makes people feel more a part of the community, which makes the whole community stronger.”

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8 Responses to “City Of Burien Says: “Aquí Se Habla Español””
  1. Steve says:

    I have a crazy idea i’d rather pay for them to learn english than have to put in a spanish line.

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  2. Jay says:

    Night classes at the community center, public schools… I agree that teaching english is the best way to educate our community. When I go to Mexico or Japan I need to speak their language in order to be understood.

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  3. Marie says:

    Hey what the heck? Is there a number I can call to get this information in English? Reduced cable rates, free burien shuttle? I’m interested!

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  4. Rainycity says:

    Press 1 for english????

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  5. Sally Fields says:

    Unebelievable! Let us all forget English and start learning Spanish, since before too long, nobody in this country will speak English. Why should they?
    It makes me sick and angry that we cater to foreigners from one language this much. All the money that goes into translating documents that could be spent on something else, like teachen them the language of the country they have entered (and a lot of them illegally!).

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  6. JJ says:

    Absolutely a waste of money and resources to create this special phone line. My gosh people. You move to this country why don’t you learn the language. When I visit different country’s which I do many times, I am expected to know the language and read it too. Why are American’s so lazy that we need to cater to the Spanish community. I’m all for bringing culture into our communities but this is garbage. I refuse to learn Spanish just so I can continue to live in Burien.
    If you do not like learning English then go back home.

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  7. Rainycity says:

    Charge them a fee for the service and use that money to put in the sidewalks you want to charge everyone else for..

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  8. miamigos says:

    What a bunch of narrow minded idiots, you make me embarrassed to live her. People in other countries speak multiple languages and you are all so insulated that you can’t see that we live in global village now. I welcome that we support Spanish speaking citizens. Muchas gracias, City of Burien.

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