Translation Outreach and Bilingual Employees: Two Halves of a Whole

Many business owners and service providers are sold on the importance of providing Spanish language translations of their documents.  Ensuring that Spanish speakers understand your written message will enable you to tap into a new demographic if you own a business or reach out to people who need your services if you are a nonprofit or for-profit service provider.   Now that you’ve gotten Spanish speakers in the door by connecting with them in the language they understand best, make sure that you keep them by providing superlative customer service in person and over the phone.  If Spanish speakers are drawn in by marketing materials in Spanish, they expect that the company will have a Spanish-speaking staff person to help them.  If your company doesn’t have trained front-line staff to speak with customers in Spanish, the second best solution is to have interpretation services on call.   Not having bilingual staff or fast access to an interpreter may cause you to lose potential customers.  To provide seamless customer service to Spanish-speakers, keep the following in mind: 

  • Spanish-speaking front line staff should be just as well-trained as your English speaking staff. Conversely, grabbing any employee to interpret just because he speaks Spanish looks unprofessional and will ultimately frustrate the customer.
  • Ask for evidence of Spanish language proficiency if the potential employee was not born in a Latin American country.  Two semesters of college Spanish doesn’t make one bilingual.  Neither does being a native Portuguese speaker, although many Portuguese speakers learn to speak Spanish well.
  • If serving a large number of Spanish speakers, make sure that you have sufficient bilingual staff.  Bilingual staff shouldn’t serve a disproportionally large number of customers just because of their language skills.
  • Don’t expect your Spanish-speaking staff to take on translation duties.  Translation, as does customer service, takes a special skill set.
  • If it’s not possible to have enough bilingual staff to fill your needs, make sure that you have a qualified interpretation service on call. 

 Having your materials translated into Spanish is an important first step.  The above tips can help you to solidify first sales and create a connection with a whole new demographic of customers that will give them a great impression of your business.

Latinos “Moved the Needle” in 2008’s Historic Election

As we mentioned in an earlier Transpanish Blog post, several groups pushed for Latino permanent residents to apply for citizenship in time for this year’s election.  In fact, one in five new voters is Hispanic.  Both Obama and McCain spent millions reaching out to Hispanic voters, especially in the swing states.  These campaigns, along with non-partisan groups which encouraged Latinos to participate in civic life, made the votes of Hispanic citizens critical to the presidential race.

So what does this mean for Obama’s success?  One well-known blogger says that Latinos voted against the Republicans and not for Obama.  Tejeda’s blog offers some fascinating commentary about Latinos and politics, and is worth a read.  In an Oppenheimer Report released before the election, the point is made that Obama’s almost flawless Spanish pronunciation and use of the familiar tu, may be disingenuous and make Latinos think that he’s more on their side than he actually is.

In Colorado and Florida, both key states, Latinos voted more than ever before.  In Colorado, the number of Latinos who voted more than doubled from the 2004 election.  A Colorado Independent article cites Pew Hispanic Center data showing that Latinos in Colorado made up 17 percent of total voters, up nine points from the 2004 election.

In Florida, Obama was the first Democrat to win the vote of the majority of Latino voters.  While nationwide, Obama won by a larger margin, no other democrat has ever taken Florida since they begin doing exit polls in the 1980s.  Older Cubans typically vote Republic, but Florida is experiencing a demographic and generational shift, as non-Cuban Hispanics and younger people of Cuban descent lean towards the blue.  The Miami-Herald reports on what this may mean for Florida’s political landscape.

The Pew Hispanic Center, as always, provides detailed demographic info about Latinos in the U.S. and their report on the exit polls is no exception.

Of course, Obama hasn’t yet articulated a plan for immigration reform and Latinos themselves certainly don’t have a uniform stance on immigration.  But whatever opinion Latinos have of immigration in the U.S., the NALEO Educational Fund is an incredible resource for Latinos who want to participate more deeply in civic life.

Nearing Election Day, Latino Vote Becomes Critical

In the spring and summer of 2007, organizations working with immigrants made a huge campaign to encourage people to apply for citizenship for two reason: to beat the monumental fee increase in the end of July 2007 and to get America’s newest citizens ready in time for November 4th.  More than a million applied for naturalization in 2007 and another 480,000 in 2008 (Source: Cox News Service), making this the most multicultural election in history.

And despite the English Only proponents, states are beefing up the ranks of poll workers with language skills because of the Voting Rights Act.  This act requires that certain states and jurisdictions translate ballot materials into other languages and provide interpretation services in some cases.

Latinos typically lean toward blue, and judging from a survey by El Tiempo Latino, this year will be no different.  The survey found that of the 502 interviewed, 85.2% said they’d vote for Obama and the remaining 14.8% for McCain (Source in Spanish: El Tiempo Latino).  The National Post also found that Latinos are overwhelmingly in support of Obama, but with a ratio of 2 to 1. This article also states that Latinos have an affinity for Obama because his top three issues are those most important to Hispanics: the economy, the war in Iraq, and immigration reform.

But many asked after the debates: where is the dialogue on immigration?  Why aren’t they talking about it since it’s such a hot issue for those across the spectrum, especially when the Latino vote is so critical?

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, the candidates indeed are talking about immigration.  Just not in English.  Both candidates have been airing Spanish-language ads speaking to the immigration issue so as to gain the crucial Latino vote without alienating the general public (i.e. non-Spanish speakers) about this highly contested topic.  While the article has a decidedly McCain slant to it, the overall question of why both candidates remain tight-lipped about immigration in English but are spending campaign ad dollars to sway the Latino vote is an interesting one.

Latinos and Real Estate

As people in the United States of all socio-economic classes worry about financial problems, Latinos are disproportionately getting hit with foreclosures on their properties.  Why are Latinos losing their homes to foreclosure at a faster rate than other demographics?  The upsurge in subprime mortgages (mortgages with high interest rates and tenuous ethics meant specifically for those with bad credit history) is the main reason that Latinos are increasingly facing the threat of foreclosure. Whereas once Latinos with bad credit would have the option to either come up with cash or not purchase a property, subprime lenders began to target minorities with bad credit, knowing full-well that their customers would barely be able to make the payments.  Consumers, never thinking that they would be able to own a home, were lulled by the promises of these lenders.  A report by United for a Fair Economy called State of the Dream 2008: Foreclosed offers reasons for the damage, and suggestions for moving forward.    Why are Latinos so affected by the fallout from this lending nightmare?  Some of the reasons are: 

  • Lack of understanding about the process to become a homeowner (nearly 4 in 5 are first-time homebuyers and don’t have the collective wisdom of family and friends to guide them).
  • The tendency to go with people they know for assistance and if a predatory lender is the only one in the neighborhood, that’s the only recommendation they can get.
  • The only choice often is to go with a subprime mortgage or not to buy at all.
  • The lack of alternative measures of financial responsibility, such as wiring money to home countries monthly or lengthy histories of rental payments.
  • Not having financial information explained in Spanish and not having real estate documents translated into Spanish.

By providing real estate consultations and financial advice in Spanish, real estate agencies and lenders can work to help Latinos avoid foreclosure in the future.   

Transpanish offers 10% discount in Real Estate Translations.

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!

We are right in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15th to October 15th.  These 31 days are meant to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the U.S.’s largest linguistic and ethnic minority.  The month-long homage to the contributions that Hispanics (those who trace their roots to Spanish-speaking countries) appropriately begins on September 15th, which is Independence Day for five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.  Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th and Chile’s September 18th.

President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed the week that includes September 15th and 16th to be National Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 and in 1988, the observance was expanded to an entire month.  Each year there is a theme, and the theme of 2008 is Getting Involved: Our Families, Our Communities, Our Nation, which was chosen from the top five suggested themes.

Local and federal governments, private industry, community organizations, and media all contribute to the offerings throughout this month and the Internet is a great resource to learn about the impact Hispanics have made on this country as well as events that are happening across the country.

The U.S. Census Bureau provides a great set of statistics on Hispanics in the U.S. in honor of this month in such categories as Population, Businesses, Families, and Jobs.  To read the stats and find links to the original sources of information, click here.

The Smithsonian Institute’s list of teaching resources gives a broad set of tools to begin exploring the range of ways that Latinos have contributed to our country.

AOL’s Latino Tu Vida channel is a portal to popular Latino culture with quizzes, info about Latino celebrities, and recipes.  To sample these eclectic, entertaining offerings, start here.

These three links are just the beginning to exploring the rich and diverse culture that Hispanics bring to America.  With two weeks left to the month-long celebration, try to attend one of the many celebrations and educational events happening across the country.

More resources:

Hispanic Community in US

Spanish Language