Social Media, Latinos, and the New Marketing Environment

As the marketing atmosphere changes and evolves faster than ever with new technological developments and new ways for companies to connect with their customers, we are seeing more companies reach out to their Spanish-language audiences. One way that they are doing this is by translating their web pages into Spanish. But they’re also going further than simply providing information to the Latin American and Caribbean markets in the Spanish language.

Marketers tend to follow media use among groups very closely in order to know where they need to be marketing their products, and how they need to be marketing them. So it’s natural that they have taken note recently of a marked increase in social media use among Latino populations in the U.S. as well as throughout Latin America itself. While some social media sites that are obscure in the U.S. have a wider audience in the Latin American region, like High 5, the most popular site globally—Facebook—has become far more popular among Spanish speakers just in the past year or so.

Even a disappointing IPO earlier this year has not detained the growth that Facebook is currently experiencing in the Latino market, nor has it watered down the interest that companies have in reaching its user base. The social media analytics company, Socialbakers, published a new infographic a few months ago which shows that this user base has increased by 47% over the past year, reaching 168 million active monthly users in the region. In a word, it’s transforming the way products are marketed to Latinos.


Source: Socialbakers

And as this population becomes more and more the focus of companies with an international or regional reach, various kinds of information will increasingly be available in the Spanish language. Now, it is not only that Google and Facebook are available in Spanish, but the content which they disperse is, too—in the form of advertisements, web pages, videos and more. As a result, the companies that will most successfully manage this new environment and use it to their benefit, will be the ones that can seamlessly go from an English-speaking audience to a Spanish-speaking one, and back.

As with so many other professions, localization professionals and Spanish translators may very well find their new home in marketing and social media in the months and years ahead.

The Importance of Providing Written Translations of Company Policies

While US labor laws require that employers provide translations of certain kinds of information regarding company policies to Spanish-speaking employees, the laws which are currently on the books do not necessarily cover all of the information that these employees require. As a result, it is not unheard-of for employees with limited English abilities to be unaware of their rights as workers, or unable to exercise them to their fullest capacity.

The most intuitive area that affects these workers are policies regarding anti-discrimination. Unfortunately, discrimination in the workplace is still something which occurs and which is a topic of concern among labor advocates. And while companies usually provide some form of translation of their policies, as required by law, the information is sometimes incomplete. Further, the form which those translations take can also complicate matters.

A relevant case which reached the federal court in Colorado dealt with a sexual harassment complaint which a Spanish-speaking employee brought against some co-workers. Although the company had provided a Spanish-language video explaining some of the information in the companies pertinent policy, the actual policy itself—with complete information—was never provided to the employee in Spanish. In addition, the interpreter that was available at the work premises to foster communication between Spanish-speaking and English-speaking employees—including between the employee who filed the lawsuit and those she was accusing—was implicated in the complaint. As a result, the employee felt that she could not resolve the issue directly with the parties involved.

In situations such as this, it behooves an employer to provide written translations of company policies in their entirety to workers who speak Spanish. It may be the case that if these translations were provided, beyond what the law requires, a costly escalation of the case could be avoided—a benefit to everyone involved, including the company itself. Even if a similar situation never arises, the company can rest assured that they have taken sufficient measures to anticipate any possible issues, and know that they have covered their bases. Written translations also offer the additional benefit of being evidence that Spanish-speaking employees have indeed been informed of company policies and their individual rights.

Courting Votes and Taking Notes: The Delicate Act of Appealing to Latino Voters

A recent BBC article picked up on a gaffe U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made while trying to appeal to Latino voters in this year’s upcoming election. In fact, many news outlets ran the story, noting that it fits into a tradition of presidents or presidential candidates embarrassing themselves before the largest minority group in the United States.

When asked by a Cuban-American radio host what his favorite fruits were, Romney unwittingly listed one in particular that is a slang term among Cubans for a woman’s body part. While no doubt more than a few people got a laugh out of it, the exchange also points to a timely question: When it comes to courting votes among minority groups, where is the line between offensive or patronizing, versus respectful and genuine?

Although Romney wasn’t intentionally trying to make a joke or be crude, the issue of what seems appropriate often comes down to how genuine the person comes across. When George W. Bush spoke to Latino voters in Spanish, most did not take offense to his decidedly Texan accent in part because it was in line with his Texan accent in English, which got plenty of mockery as it was.

In Obama’s case, the “yes, we can” line has been well received as translated into Spanish. As it turns out, the phrase didn’t originate with Obama during the 2008 race for the presidency, but rather with Cesar Chavez nearly 50 years before. With a history as a community organizer, and perhaps because he is a minority himself, Obama has mostly come across as genuine in his efforts to reach out to the Latino community.

Getting back to business

Anyone who has visited a Spanish-speaking country was likely able to spot the tourists from the U.S. just by the way their accent sounded (and depending on who you are, might have felt comfort in their shared awkwardness.) Many tourists from any country have felt the hesitation in speaking a foreign language, not wanting to embarrass themselves but also not wanting to seem rude or cold. While news items such as this one don’t necessarily help that self-awareness, they do potentially provide an opportunity for us to collectively laugh at ourselves, and then get back to the business of communicating.

In that regard, both presidential candidates deserve to be recognized for at least trying to connect with Latino voters in several ways. Sitting down for an interview on Univision, for example, the most popular television network among the Latino community, is not in itself patronizing or offensive. Romney’s self-tanner, however, might have crossed the line for some.

Are you a Hispanic living in US? How do you feel when a candidate try to reach out to your community by speaking in Spanish?

Hispanic Heritage Month is more important than ever

What is National Hispanic Heritage Month?
National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated every year by all North Americans between September 15th to October 15th. The entire month is devoted to the celebration of the histories, cultures and contributions of the North American population whose ancestors originally came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and both Central and South America.
These annual celebrations first began in 1968 when the US was governed by President Lyndon Johnson and at first only lasted one week. It was President Ronald Reagan who eventually extended the celebrations to an entire month in 1988 when it was given the approval of Public Law 100-142.
The festivities begin on September 15th, a date that was chosen because of its historical significance. September 15th is the date of Independence for many Latin American countries including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. What’s more, there are many other Latin American countries whose Independence dates fall within the thirty-day period.

What does it mean to be a Latino in the US in 2012?
Latin Americans, or North Americans with South and Central American descent, are growing in number, power and influence every single year in the US. The country’s census figures reveal that Latin Americans make up the largest minority population in the US and that they hold many important positions within North American society, including politics and innovation / development.

What does the US have planned for the National Hispanic Heritage Month this year?
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute has a wide number of events planned for this year’s celebrations, any of which are talks, tributes and celebrations of important events and work of Latin Americans in the US in the past. These include Arts and Culture Receptions, talks on Latinos leading the way in commerce and other industries and tributes to Latinos in the media, for example.
Washington DC is throwing some fantastic free events. The family event on September 15th, entitled Hispanic Heritage Month Family Day, at the National Museum of American History, will be hosting an entire day of music, dancing, arts, crafts and food that is free for all the family to attend. Fiesta Musical will include dancing, crafts and Latin American food inside The National Zoo on September 16th. This event is also running all day and is free for everyone.
Naturally, the entire country is hosting its various tributes and events. A simple search by state will reveal a wide range of activities to take advantage of.

A few facts about National Heritage Month and Latinos living in the US
Did you know that:
1. There are about 52 million Hispanics living in the US at present and by 2050 it is suspected that this figure will grow to about 132.8 million.
2. Hispanics make up about 16% of the entire North American population, which should grow to 30% by 2050.
3. Businesses managed by Latin Americans in the US generate about US$351 billion receipts every year.
4. The Democrat Party recently cited San Antonio Mayor, Julian Castro, as a possible future US president, which is the first time in history that this party has highlighted a Latin American in such a way.
6. More than 50% of the US Hispanic population lives in California, Texas and Florida.

Spanglish Spoken Here

Spanglish, the love child born of the relationship between Spanish and English, features a rather inventive mix of the two languages. English words frequently get a “makeover” before being adopted by Spanglish users, with spelling often changed to loosely fit the rules of Spanish. Check out these examples of Spanglish at its finest.

  • Breakfast might get top billing as the most important meal of the day, but lonche [English: lunch; Spanish: almuerzo] doesn’t trail far behind. Just make sure you’ve picked up some grocerías [English: groceries/food; Spanish: alimentos/comida] at the marketa [English: market; Spanish: mercado], or you may go hungry.
  • Hey, do you want to go for a ride in my new troca [English: truck; Spanish: camioneta]?
  • I can’t find a spot that’s closer, so I’m just going to parkear [English: to park; Spanish: estacionar] here. We’ll have to walk a few bloques [English: blocks; Spanish: cuadras], but it’s good to get some fresh aigre [English: air; Spanish: aire].
  • I really need a haircut. I think I’ll head over to the barberchop [English: barbershop; Spanish: peluquería] later this afternoon.
  • I can’t stand my boss. I’m going to quitear [English: to quit; Spanish: renunciar] my job!
  • Someone was tochando [English: touching; Spanish: tocando] the escrin [English: screen; Spanish: pantalla]. It’s covered in fingerprints and smudges.

English Words that Take on Alter Egos in Spanish

As a non-native speaker of Spanish, it’s a given that certain words will occasionally throw me for a loop during the course of a conversation. What I don’t generally expect is that those words will be from my own language! A number of words such as chequear (to check) and frizar (to freeze) have passed seamlessly from English to the domain of Spanglish; however, the meanings of other words and phrases have morphed substantially, creating confusion among native English speakers.

Here’s a brief list of English words with alter egos in Spanish that I’ve encountered here in Argentina. Try to imagine the words being spoken with a Spanish accent to get the full effect.

un shopping…..a mall

zapping… surfing

el living…..the living room

un lunch…..a buffet of hors d’oeuvres and finger foods/sandwiches

un tupper…..a Tupperware container or any plastic food storage container

un after office…..a happy hour

un ticket…..a receipt

un country..…a gated community

un jogging…..a pair of sweatpants, sweats or a tracksuit

tuning…..customization (usually in reference to cars)

un brushing…..a blow-out (hair)

un slip…’s bikini briefs

Have you ever been stumped by an English word or phrase that’s been adopted by the Spanish language?

Latinos Spend More Time on Social Media than Other Groups

According to a market research study conducted by BIGinsight in February 2012, U.S. Hispanics spend significantly more time on social media than the average American Internet user. On any given day, 26.8% of Latino users are active on social media sites for upwards of six hours, while just 8.5% of all Internet users spend that amount of time on social media. While the big players like Facebook and Twitter garner plenty of attention from Latino users, interestingly, Hispanics are also more willing to visit some of the smaller social media sites such as Pinterest, foursquare and LinkedIn. For example, while just 4.9% of white users reported visiting LinkedIn on a daily basis, 15.5% of U.S. Hispanics log in to the site at least once a day. Understanding the social media usage patterns of Latino Internet users is vital to connecting with this key demographic and to creating meaningful relationships with customers.

For more information, take a look at this article by eMarketer.

Is Spanish a Sexist Language?

It seems that political correctness knows no bounds. With feminist groups and a handful of linguistic scholars leading the charge, so-called “inclusive language” has slowly crept into Spanish in the last few years. In other words, what once passed for perfectly acceptable and grammatically correct Spanish is now labeled machista or sexist, with some academics proposing changes to language usage in order to compensate. Assorted universities, unions and autonomous communities have even created style guides with new rules prescribing non-sexist language.

It’s true that the masculine gender predominates in the Spanish language when speaking in the plural form. For example, a room full of female attorneys would constitute the use of the word “abogadas” (feminine plural), but should one male attorney grace the room with his presence, the masculine plural form would be used. Likewise, the parents of three girls and one boy would refer to their children as hijos (masculine plural) despite the overwhelming female majority.

Overall it can be said that English is a more compact, concise language than Spanish; however, in certain cases, Spanish has the upper hand. For example, in English we must say “brothers and sisters” while the Spanish word “hermanos” captures the same meaning in a more succinct manner. Spanish will lose what little advantage it has in this sense if changes are adopted. Case in point, the word “argentinos” encompasses both male and female citizens of Argentina; however, scholars are suggesting the use of the more inclusive “argentinos y argentinas,” and indeed the nation’s president seems to have adopted this mode of speech.

Ultimately, these changes make the language more unruly and less pleasing to the ear. They also present a problem in terms of space, as these expanded forms of expression take up more room in written documents. Text expansion is already an issue when translating from English into Spanish; these new rules would only worsen the problem.

Supporters of non-sexist language argue that existing Spanish syntax diminishes the importance of women and is tantamount to discrimination, essentially making women invisible within the language. Furthermore, by dictating that the masculine gender should take precedence, critics claim that the standard rules of Spanish grammar—under the guise of tradition— constitute a tool of female domination.

Without a doubt, language reflects the society from which it emerged. Spanish evolved, over the course of centuries, from Latin, a patriarchal language. Although women were considered second-class citizens when Spanish first came about, this fact doesn’t mean that women are bound to this same position in modern-day society. The Spanish language isn’t holding women back; machista attitudes and cultural traditions impeding women’s empowerment are the real issue.

Besides, it’s very difficult to establish a clear connection between gender discrimination and language. While certain languages, such as Chinese, may appear to be less sexist, the women in these societies are no more empowered than those who speak Spanish. In fact, they are less so. The bottom line is that language equality is not necessarily reflected in the feminine condition.

If Hispanics really want to fight sexism, they should start with concrete measures that guarantee rights like equal pay, reproductive choice, access to education, etc. for women rather than tossing away a part of their linguistic heritage.

Should Translation Apps Be Used by Emergency Personnel?

Every second counts in an emergency. In everyday life, a language barrier can produce frustrating or even comical results, but in critical situations, first responders can’t rely on pantomime or guessing games to determine crucial information about non-English speaking patients’ status or medical history. Doctors at clinics and hospitals frequently use staff medical interpreters, telephone language line services, and in some cases, video medical interpretation systems to help them interact with non-English speaking patients, but emergency personnel in the field rarely have access to these language aids.


A language barrier at the scene of an emergency poses several difficulties. First of all, when emergency personnel encounter a non-English speaking victim, they automatically lose precious time in assessing the patient because of the lack of fluid communication. Even if the patient speaks some English, the likelihood exists that a first responder will misinterpret information, as a person suffering a medical emergency will probably have more difficulty than normal communicating in a second language due to the stress of the situation. Misinformation about the patient’s status could actually be more harmful than no information at all.


Interested users can now download an app version of Google Translate—one of the web’s most ubiquitous machine translation tools—that functions on Apple’s mobile devices such as the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. In all, 64 languages are supported by the app. In addition, a speech-to-text function is supported for 17 languages, allowing for quicker and more efficient input of text to be translated, and users can listen to translations spoken aloud for 24 languages.


Machine translation may be used in a pinch until qualified interpreters can be brought to the scene or the patient can be provided professionally translated medical information, but such apps must not be considered a substitute for a professional translator or interpreter. As previously discussed on this blog [see “When Never to Use Google Translate”], machine translation has its faults and should never be the sole resource for medical translation or interpretation in life-or-death situations. Inaccurate translations delivered by an app in an emergency situation can actually do more harm than good to the patient. Ideally, instead of fiddling with their smartphones, emergency personnel (paramedics, police, etc.) should be completely free from the worry of interpreting what the patient has to say so they can focus on doing their job: administering first aid.

Latinos and the 2012 Elections

As the 2012 U.S. elections draw ever closer, some candidates scramble to curry favor with influential Latino voters while others have dismissed the Hispanic vote altogether. However, the impact of the Latino vote in this year’s elections cannot be ignored by those seeking office, as Latino voters’ say at the ballot box will make or break competitive Senate races and decide who ascends to the office of president (or remains there) for the next four years.

The flexibility of the Latino vote means that this crucial demographic could swing either way politically in this year’s election. Most Republican candidates have firmly taken an anti-immigrant stance, and many of the party’s key priorities fail to resonate with Latinos. Nonetheless, President Obama hasn’t come through on important campaign promises to the Hispanic community and has, in fact, distanced himself from many in the demographic by increasing the number of deportations.

Immigration is the key issue for Latino voters. A recent poll conducted by Univision News revealed immigration reform as the number one concern for registered Hispanic voters, followed closely by jobs and the economy. Even when voters find that they agree with a candidate’s take on economic issues, they are less likely to vote for that candidate if he supports restrictive immigration policies.

In spite of a tremendous push to register Latino voters in 2008 and 2010, only some 60% of Latino adults are registered to vote, in comparison with 70% of blacks and 74% of whites. So, while the Latino population is experiencing dramatic growth, the influence of the Hispanic demographic on the 2012 election could be even greater than expected if voter registration drives result in more Latinos on the rolls.

The Latino community is engaged and energized ahead of these elections. Organizations such as The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and Mi Familia Vota are working hard to register every eligible Latino voter and to encourage Hispanic turnout at this year’s election, which is predicted to be 25% higher than in the previous presidential election.