Translating Health Care Documents to Spanish

A Guide to Translating Health Care Materials into Spanish – Second Part

In our last article, we discussed the benefits of translating health care materials into Spanish, and looked at some of the steps involved in the process. Once the decision has been made to translate the materials, the next step is to find a qualified translator. Here, we offer you a guide to recruiting qualified medical translators and to ensuring that the finished product is useable and fit for purpose.

Recruiting a qualified medical translator

Recruiting a qualified medical translator entails much more than finding someone who is bilingual. Although this is one of the necessary qualifications, a translator employed to translate health care materials must also possess considerable expertise and experience in the subject matter to be able to understand the source text.

A key decision is whether to employ a freelance medical translator or a translation agency. Although freelancers can be seen as a less expensive option, translation agencies offer a more comprehensive service, providing a whole team that will see a translation project through from start to finish. A project manager heads a team of translators and proofreaders, meaning that you save valuable time, which in effect saves you money.

Negotiating terms

After finding a qualified medical translator, terms need to be negotiated in regards to fees, completion dates and payment terms.

Spanish translators can charge in different ways, generally per word or per page. However, if the project is for a specific format, such as a pamphlet created in InDesign, translators may also quote a DTP fee. Where specialized knowledge and experienced is called for, higher costs should be expected.

Negotiations should be clear from the outset and should include that the translator will commit to staying with the project until completion. This should include proofreading and final revisions.

A further advantage of using a translation agency is that they usually offer discounts for large projects or for nonprofit organizations.

Development Phase

Throughout the development stage of a health care translation, close contact should be maintained between all parties, so that the translator can ask for clarification when needed. If the translation is a long-term project, possible reviews and updates should be specified in the quote.


The revision stage can either be carried out by the translation agency, which will use other qualified medical translators within its team to review the document, or it can be carried out by the client. However, if you were to undertake the review process yourself, it is paramount that the reviewer is a Spanish native speaker and ideally has extensive experience in both translation and the medical topic in hand. Grammatical construction and usage, spelling and use of expressions should all be taken in consideration.

Final proofreading

If the translator or translation agency is not in charge of the Desktop Publishing task, the translator should be available to do a final proofreading of the text once it has been integrated into its final design format.

Although producing and translating health care materials into Spanish can be an investment in terms of both time and money, it is becoming an essential process in a country like the US which has a large Hispanic population. The benefits of the investment far outweigh the risks to patient health and the careers of health care providers.

Hispanics in USA

Hispanics in the United States – Stats and Facts

56.6 million

According to U.S Census Bureau, on July 1 2015, Hispanics constituted 17.6 percent of the US nation’s total population, making people of Hispanic origin the nation´s largest ethnic or race minority. The Hispanic population grew by 2.2% percent, rising 1.2 million between July 1 2014 and July 1 2015. This increase accounts for almost half of the growth in the total population of the United States, which stood at 2.5 million for the same period.

By 2060, the US Census Bureau estimates that the Hispanic population in the US will stand at 119 million and constitute 28.6 percent of the total US nation’s population.


Language Preference

In 2014, 58 percent of Spanish speakers and 57 percent of Hispanic Spanish speakers in the US were reported to speak English ‘very well’. As the Hispanic population has increased, so has the number of US residents who speak Spanish within the home, with an increase 126.3 percent in comparison to 1990.


Hispanic Origins: 2014
Mexican 63.9
Guatemalan 2.4
Salvadoran 3.8
Cuban 3.7
Dominican 3.2
Puerto Rican 9.5
South American, Central American and other Hispanic or Latino origin – the remainder

Hispanic population in the US foreign-born 35 percent

1) The “Central American” group includes people who reported “Costa Rican,” “Honduran,” “Nicaraguan,” “Panamanian,” Central American Indian groups, and “Canal Zone.”
2)  The “South American” group includes people who reported “Argentinean,” “Bolivian,” “Chilean,” “Colombian,” “Ecuadorian,” “Paraguayan,” “Peruvian,” “Uruguayan,” “Venezuelan,” South American Indian groups, and “South American.”
3) The “Other Hispanic” group includes people who reported “Spaniard,” as well as “Hispanic” or “Latino” and other general terms.

Hispanic Population Figures in States and Counties: 2015

  • 1 million+: the number of Hispanic residents in the states of California, Florida, Texas, Arizona, New York, New Mexico, Illinois, New Jersey and Colorado.
  • 2 million: California was home to the largest Hispanic population out of all the states.
  • 5 percent: the number of US residents of Hispanic origin in the US living in California, Texas and Florida.
  • 9 million: the largest population of Hispanics in any county was found in Los Angeles County.
  • 49,000: the increase of Hispanics in Harris County in Texas between 2014 and 2015; the largest increase in any state


Jobs and Median Household Income

67.1 percent of Hispanics aged 16 or over were employed in the civilian labor force in 2014, of which 20.4 percent held business, science, management, and arts occupations.

Median incomes:

United States $53,657
Hispanic/Latino $42,491



In 2014, 16.4 percent of undergraduate or graduate students students were of Hispanic origin, and 24.0 percent of elementary and high school students. 65.3 percent of Hispanics aged 25+ had completed their high-school education and 14.4 percent had obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher.


Families and Children

In the year 2015, there were 16.2 million Hispanic households in the US.

Hispanic (percent) US (percent)
Married-couple Households (2015) 47.7 48.2
Married-couple households with children younger than 18 at home (2015) 57.6 64.3
Families including two parents (2015) 66.8 69.5
Married couples with children under 18 with both parents working (2014) 46.0 59.7


Hispanic/Latino Business

Between 2007 and 2012 there was a 46.3 percent increase in the estimated number of Hispanic-owned firms within the whole of the US, from 2.3 million to 3.3 million. 91.3% of these 3.3 million firms had no employees, compared to 80.4 percent of US firms.

Hispanic-owned companies reported sales totaling $437.8 million, $78.7 million of which was from firms owned by Hispanic women.


Spanish in the World

  • Some countries or areas with significant Spanish-speaking populations include Andorra, Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Gibraltar, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, the United States and Venezuela.
  • Over 472 million people in the world speak Spanish as their first language. If we include the number of people who are fluent in Spanish as a second language, the total number of Spanish speakers in the world is well over 570 million people.
  • Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
  • Spanish is the second world language as a vehicle of international communication and the third as an international language of politics, economics and culture.

The Miami English: A New English Dialect Is Born

It has always been said that languages are living creatures. Apparently it is an undeniable truth since a new English dialect is born: the Miami English. Young men and women that were born or have grown up there, whether from Latin origin or not, speak it at schools, universities and, of course, on the white sanded beaches of Miami.

According to language experts, this phenomenon is not new at all, especially in the United States. As it has already occurred in cities such as New York, Boston or Texas, the English spoken in Miami is suffering a series of changes motivated by the demographic changes in the area. In other words, the influence of the Caribbean and Latin American culture cannot be denied.

Even though this is not a new phenomenon, experts agree on the fact that this Miami English is something more than just speaking English using a particular accent. Philip Carter, an American Linguistics professor that’s been living in Miami for two years explains the characteristics of the Miami English.

Speakers of Miami English:

  • Usually refer to friends with the word “Bro”
  • Use plenty of times words as: “like”, “a lot”, “totally”, “oye”, “dale”, “super”
  • Use invented words such as “irregardless” or “supposebly”
  • Speak it mostly using nasal sounds, especially the girls.
  • Borrow some grammatical structures from the Spanish language.
  • Speak really fast
  • Stick to the five Spanish vowel sounds.
  • Do literal translations from the Spanish language into the English one.

Despite some prejudice that has arisen against the Miami English, the influence of this new dialect can be appreciated beyond the community of young men and women. In fact, it has become a regional dialect that is associated to the south of Florida.

Read more here (article in Spanish)

Should NYPD Officers Speak Spanish?

The NYPD seems to have some trouble with Spanish speaking people. Just a few days after nine Hispanic officers were issued memos for chatting in Spanish amongst themselves and violating the department’s unofficial English-only policy, their intolerance with Spanish speakers has made it to the press again.

image courtesy of

Five Latina women in New York City filed a lawsuit last week against the New York Police Department, the City of New York, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for failing to provide Spanish interpreters during separate house calls over the past two years.

One of the complainants, who is a victim of domestic abuse, said that, despite the fact that she asked for someone who spoke Spanish when she called 911, only English-speaking police officers were sent to her house. She adds that, to make things worse, they arrested her instead of the attacker and ridiculed her just because she was not fluent in English.

The reaction of the NYPD so far is disappointing, to say the least. Even though Paul Browne, its chief spokesperson, dismissed the lawsuit alleging that the department has an efficient language service as well as the largest number of foreign-language officers in the country, who many a time act as translators or interpreters during house calls, the truth is that the force reprimands its officers for not speaking English during the working hours.

That double message is contradictory and confusing. The NYPD embraces foreign officials and encourages them to put their language knowledge to the service of troubled citizens but then fails to send them to help out in situations where they are really needed or files memos against those same cops for using their mother tongue during working hours.

It is perfectly understandable the need to ensure the use of English as the only spoken language in certain situations. For instance, when officers from different ethnic backgrounds are together, when they are discussing safety instructions or procedures or when they are looking into a case. However, in every other situation, officers should be allowed to use the language they are more comfortable with. The United States is a multicultural and multilingual country and its police force should reflect that fact.

Does Whole Foods discriminate against Spanish Speaking Employees?

In such a multicultural country as the United States, the number of Hispanic employees in the workplace has shown a steady increase over the last years. Attracted by the chance of better employment opportunities, many Latinos come to the States to find jobs in small, medium-sized and large business organizations. Some of them speak English fluently but others are not comfortably at all in an English-only environment thus employers need to adapt their companies to these circumstances.

There are many things that business owners can do to demonstrate commitment to Hispanic employees, at least from the language point of view. Amongst them we can mention: providing them with Spanish training courses, making sure all notices and corporate messages are offered to them both in English and in Spanish, and using visual aids to make concepts clearer in every training session.

Enforcing an “English-only” rule in the workplace seems to be a practical idea to discourage the use of Spanish amongst Latino workers. However, under the light of the recent events in New Mexico in which Latinos are organizing a boycott against Whole Foods for having allegedly suspended two workers for speaking Spanish during working hours, the advantages of such a policy should be at least questioned.

In this case, Whole Foods store in Albuquerque has failed to understand that it is located in one of the states with one of the largest Latino community and that, therefore, its decision shows a total disrespect not only to its Hispanics employees but also for a large number of their clients. In fact, it should not be strange at all if any time soon Latinos just stop doing their grocery shopping in their stores. Their spokesman’s statement that “all employees must speak English in the workplace” has not calmed down the outcry.

US companies, no matter how big or small their Latino workforce is, should definitely pay attention to this issue as it shows the impact that a corporate decision can have amongst its employees and clients. Failing to provide a comfortable and secure working environment to Spanish speaking employees can backfire in many other aspects of the business. It’s not only a matter of making sure everybody understands corporate memos and training courses on how to use a certain machine or software program. In fact, it has to do with corporate responsibility and showing respect for the Hispanic community.

Is Latino Unemployment in the US really on the decrease?

Last week, the US employment report was rolled out and, on the surface, the figures look good for the Latino community living in the US.

The report documents a 0.2% drop in Latino unemployment in the past month. The figure has dropped from 9.2% in March 2013 to 9.0% in April 2013, but the data is deceiving, according to Alicia Criado from the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

The US Latino unemployment rate might well be the lowest it has been since November 2008, when it dropped to an impressive 8.6%, but a closer inspection of the fine details reveals a number of concerns.

Free image courtesy of

In defiance of the report, Criado rightly points out that 209,000 Latinos based in the US have actually just stopped looking for work and were, therefore, not included in the data used to generate the recent report on US employment. Criado is adamant that Latinos face lots of difficulties when it comes to finding employment in the US across a wide variety of industries and that the constant disappointment felt from unsuccessful job applications has forced 209,000 of them to simply stop trying.

The NCLR also published its own monthly Latino report last week. This report delves a little deeper into the facts and figures relating to US Latino unemployment and reveals that unemployment levels, which specifically pertain to the Latino youth demographic, those individuals aged between 16 and 24, climbed to a shocking 18% this month – double the overall Latino unemployment rate recorded in the US government’s employment report. Unsurprisingly, Criado, and the team who work at the NCLR, want to see this discrepancy in the figures highlighted as a definite cause for concern.

When further analyzing the state of affairs regarding US unemployment as a whole, many people might be concerned to hear that during April 2013, even though 169,000 more jobs were made available in the US across a wide range of industries including business services, food services and bars, retail and healthcare, problems surrounding job shortage in the US are far from over. The report published by the NCLR reveals that with each new job advertised in the US at present, there are still three US citizens hoping to be employed in the role.

One of the main issues which places US Latinos at a distinct disadvantage in this competitive environment is education. Both the US government and the NCLR believe that one of the best ways of decreasing unemployment within the US Latino community relates directly to education and training. Both parties believe that more Latinos must be encouraged to get a college education in order to be able to compete against their peers for high-paying jobs. The question remains as to whether resources will be made available to bring about these changes and reduce unemployment within the coming 12 months.

Indeed, it is Criado’s hope that the next Secretary of Labor will regard investment in job training and education as a real priority for US Latino workers. This, coupled with a heavy focus on health and safety in the workplace, is for Criado two of the most important areas in which the US government needs to invest if it is really serious about reducing Latino unemployment rates in the US and helping Latino workers reach their true potential.

Spanish Spelling Bee May Reflect a Rising Acceptance of the Language in the U.S.

The National Spelling Bee is a competition that is believed to have originated in the early 20th century in the United States, wherein a number of young contestants are required to a orally spell various words of increasing difficulty.  The first official Bee was held in 1925, and the first champion was eleven years old.  The tradition has since spread to many other nations.

For 85 years, the Bee was an English-only competition—a reflection of the country’s massive language majority.  Recently, however, a variant was introduced that caters to the largest (and ever-rising) minority language—Spanish.  The first annual Santillana National Spanish Spelling Bee was held in July 2011 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The winning word was Bizantinismo, spelled by 13-year-old Evelyn Juarez.

There are approximately 67 million native Spanish speakers in the U.S., and many more who speak it as a non-native language.  Although English is the de facto national language (and required for U.S. naturalization), it is not officially recognized/enforced on the federal level—perhaps a reflection of the nation’s rich history of immigration.

But although Spanish’s presence and influence is massive in the U.S., there are still many who resist its expansion, whether viciously, through xenophobic or anti-immigration policy and rhetoric, or less so, by promoting monolingualism as a necessary or preferred national linguistic policy.  The Spanish spelling bee, although still a very new tradition in the U.S., suggests a possibility for a rising adoption of the language, which already has very deep roots in the region.

The Second Annual Santillana National Spanish Spelling Bee was declared a tie, after two students surpassed 53 rounds of words—all that the competition had planned for—without making a single error.

The Third Annual Spanish Spelling Bee will be held this July, again in Albuquerque.

Some of the words included in the 2013 Spanish Spelling Bee

How much should be spent on immigration translation?

Immigration translation is no doubt an important effort for any country with immigrants, as many arrive with little to no knowledge of the national language.  By translating to a variety of languages, countries ease the already difficult process of immigration, lesson the sense of isolation and confusion.  As a result, immigrants are likely to feel more welcomed, and be more interested in integrating linguistically into society in a positive way.

Free image courtesy of

Although exactly what is translated varies widely, in the vast majority of cases, who does the translating does not: that is, the government, usually with the massive aid of tax revenue.  While many support this system—see it as a valid nationwide effort to encourage immigration and diversity—there are many who do not, especially when the effort is not as successful as it should be. Moreover, many feel that an important aspect of immigration is learning the official language(s) of the new country.

These positions considered, immigration translation becomes more than a simple question of economics; rather, it is one of national linguistic identity.  On the one extreme hand, a country could nationalize one language, and make little to no effort to translate it to a variety of others—at least, using tax revenue.  This wouldn’t necessary discourage immigration, but rather, that immigrants would learn the official language either before arriving, or make concentrated efforts to do so once they had arrived.  The “sink or swim” method, this would have many consequences, both positive and negative, that aren’t difficult to predict.

On the other extreme hand, a country could expend massive amounts of money and effort on translating as diversely and extensively as possible.  This would be highly inclusive, ostensibly allowing immigrants to live in the country without ever having to learn the official language.  Granted, many immigrants live in this manner today, but the difference in this scenario would be that the language of these minority groups could, over time, rise to comparable levels of popularity as the initial “official” language(s).  A positive aspect of this scenario would be a massive rise in demand for translators, at least initially.  A negative aspect would be an increasing linguistic division within a nation, and widespread communication difficulties.

As a result, most nations have tried to avoid such extremes, providing some immigration translation so as to be inclusive but, ultimately, resisting sustained efforts that might threaten national language dominance.

As a translator, have you worked exclusively within such a moderate approach, or within extreme ones as well?  Furthermore, how important is physical location to your work, i.e. does remote work allow a translator to escape the various pitfalls of extreme immigration translation approaches?

Understanding the Hispanic Labour Force

As the largest ethnic minority group in the U.S., Hispanics constitute a significant and growing percentage of the workforce. Many of these workers are involved in the construction and landscaping industries, though they are present in just about every industry and region of the U.S. As such, it’s important that employers understand the complexity of cultural differences which they present in order to effectively manage their team of workers.


Free image courtesy of

To begin with, Hispanics immigrating to the U.S., even on a seasonal basis, are not a homogenous group. Coming from more than 20 different countries, they present distinct cultural habits and expectations. Some of them are educated and some are not; some speak English while others do not. A worker who comes from a rural area with little formal education and no knowledge of English, for example, may show exceptional creativity and problem-solving abilities. So the Hispanic labour force represents a heterogeneous group that a manager would do best to try to understand in order to effectively navigate.

However, it is natural that language plays a significant role in managing Hispanic workers, due to the primacy of communication. The idea that immigrants coming to the U.S. should learn English is not only limiting for business purposes, it is also limited in perspective in many cases. For example, it is sometimes the case that a Hispanic worker does not know how to read or write in their own language, making it a significant hurdle for them to learn a new language. But even those with formal education, many report that English is simply a very difficult language to learn. Managers who recognize these limitations are better prepared to accommodate them — providing safety manuals in Spanish, for example, or video tutorials with images, or illustrations to clarify company standards.

Accommodating language difficulties, as such, can go a long way in preventing injuries and even fatalities on the job, in addition to familiarizing Hispanic workers with safety precautions that may be nonexistent in their countries of origin.

U.S. Border Patrol to Refuse Interpretation Assistance Requests from Other Law Enforcement Agents

Image courtesy of: U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Towards the end of November 2012, an impactful memo was released to little media attention by the Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, David V. Aguilar. The memo simply stated that Border Patrol agents would no longer respond to requests for language assistance (e.g. Spanish interpretation) from law enforcement officers who are not within the Department of Homeland Security. U.S. Border Patrol agents are required to be bilingual and traditionally have met the interpreting needs of law enforcement agents from other departments.

While the exact cause of this memo remains elusive, it comes shortly after the Northwest Immigrant Rights Projects filed a civil rights complaint arguing that the use of Border Patrol agents as interpreters unfairly limited access to government services for people being questioned who had limited English abilities. Immediately after the policy change was announced, the American Immigration Council hailed the decision, adding that these interpretation services “unconstitutionally targeted individuals for deportation based on the fact that they looked or sounded foreign and eroded trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement agencies.”

The memo further added that law enforcement personnel outside of the Department of Homeland Security would instead be given “a list of available local and national translation services.” As a result, Spanish interpreters working in the private sector would fill agents’ needs moving forward. However, critics of the policy change argue that interdepartmental collaboration would be severely hindered, including evidence-gathering and even officer safety. They add that while it may not affect agents working close to the border with Mexico – where most personnel are already bilingual – it could have serious repercussions for those working farther away from the border.

The change comes at a time when the number of Border Patrol agents is increasing rapidly, along with the federal budget which funds their operations.