By: Vashti Kelly, Program Manager

Many farm workers are immigrants who have limited English language skills and in some cases limited educational attainment. And, because many farm workers are Latino or of Latino decent the assumption is often made that all speak Spanish. However, that is not the case, take Mexico for instance. Most of the farm workers in the United States originate from Mexico where the number of individual languages listed is 287, 280 of which are indigenous. Mexico has approximately 6 million citizens who speak indigenous languages, which is a relatively small percentage compared to other countries in the Americas like Ecuador and Peru.

Top 4 Indigenous Languages of Mexico

Language Speakers
 Nahuatl 1,376,026
Yucatec Maya 759,000
Mixtec 423,216
Zapotec 410,901


This is just one example of one country and the number of languages spoken within its borders. Now let us factor in the United States 1-3 million migrant farm workers migrating every year to harvest our fruits and vegetables. Per the National Center for Farmworker Health, Inc.:

  • 78 percent of all farmworkers are foreign born.
    • 75% born in Mexico
    • 46% from traditional sending states of west central Mexico (Guanajuato, Jalisco and Michoacan)
    • 19% from non-traditional sending states in southern Mexico (Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Puebla, Morelos and Veracruz)
    • 2% born in Central American countries
    • 1% born elsewhere (Africa, Asia and the Caribbean)

Imagine how many languages are spoken by farm workers throughout the United States. And, when informally polled many farm workers provide questionable data about comprehension in fear that it will affect their ability to become employed. According to the National Agricultural Workers Survey 2001-2002, 81 percent of farm workers surveyed spoke Spanish and 18 percent spoke English.


It is this information that poses a tremendous challenge to farm worker health and safety providers, with such a large and diverse population of workers it makes reaching an already hard to reach population more difficult to infiltrate.

AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs has attempted to assuage some of these concerns by creating low literacy health and safety training materials for our farm workers and translated several of the training materials into Spanish, Haitian-Creole, Mixtec and Burmese. However, when faced with providing a training to workers in a language our trainers do not speak or for which materials have not been translated it is our practice to utilize bilingual members of the community to help relay the necessary information.