Translation Throughout History

Translation has played a role throughout history any time there has been an intersection of two cultures and languages. And each time one culture has produced a written text, translators serve as the bridge that allows literate members of one culture to be exposed to the written material the other has produced.

Perhaps the best documented example of translation history is that of the Bible, but the work of scholars and great thinkers from all over the world has also been translated. These translations have permitted the cross-germination and exposure to ideas and values that have then spread across the world because of their availability in other languages.

There are three general types of translation: literary, technical, and commercial. Most translation history that goes back centuries focuses on the former, literary translation, because of the need to transmit ideas and values from one language to another. The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation by Lawrence Venutis is a seminal work tracing the translation of literary texts into English and how those translations shape translation theory and thought across cultures.

The translation of literary texts is a field unto itself, and the layperson benefits from this because it allows access to great written works written in another language. As Venutis says in his book: “I see translation as the attempt to produce a text so transparent that it does not seem to be translated.” The reader benefits from skilled translations that stay true to the style and content of a text written in the source language and rendered into his own without the need to understand the source language.

The history of machine translation may be more critical to the modern person because of its use as an aid to transmitting information as opposed to ideas and art. Technical and commercial translations can be rendered more quickly and with greater continuity when machine translation tools are utilized. Wikipedia gives a brief overview of the history of machine translation, beginning with its origins in the seventeenth century.

Because of skilled translators and their ability to bridge two languages, we have access to texts as varied as the richly detailed novels of Isabel Allende, scholarly articles, instruction manuals, and pamphlets for non-native English speakers about health resources. Each of these examples are made possible because of the craft of translation whose history dates back to the first intersection of two cultures with written texts.

Hispanic Buying Power: Will it Continue in 2009?

You may think it strange to discuss the growth of Hispanic buying power as the United States is in the midst of one of the deepest economic downturns in recent history.  But when times were flush, a few oft-quoted reports came out about the expected increase in Hispanic wealth-accumulation and buying power.   The SeligCenter for Economic Growth’s The Multicultural Economy is a rich source of data.  To access the entire report, click here.  A key piece of information from the report finds that Hispanic buying power is projected to grow to $1.1 trillion by 2009 and $12.4 trillion by 2011.   United States residents may be buying less overall, and Latinos certainly have been hit hard by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, but with the surge in the Latino population, they will continue to buy goods and services.  Granted, most families are cutting back on purchases, but as the U.S. economy moves out of the recession, many marketing pros are counting on Latinos jumping back into the purchasing frame of mind.   A report from Experian Consumer Research indicates that Hispanics may be less affected by the recession due to certain cultural factors, including less reliance on credit for purchases and the pooling of resources among extended family.  And companies may be cutting their advertising budget and outreach to preserve jobs and keep their doors open, but Latinos are one demographic that should not be ignored.   This recession is too new to tell whether Hispanics have curtailed buying at the same rate as other ethnic groups, but article from the last recession in the early 21st century showed that Hispanics were less affected by the downturn.  Regardless, savvy marketing pros will continue to tailor their message to the demographic that shows the most promise whether that message is in Spanish or in English with a Latino flair.

Tips for Getting a Quote for Your English to Spanish Translation

The first step in forming a relationship with a potential translation agency is getting a quote for your project or document.  Translation agencies are experienced with asking the right questions so they can provide you with an accurate cost estimate.  Many agencies’ websites allow you to submit your document and query via an online application.   Some preparation on your end will make the process much more streamlined. Below are some questions you should be ready to answer when requesting a quote: 

  • What is the source language and into what language will the document be translated?
  • How complex is the document to be translated?
  • What file format do you require for the final translated document?
  • What turn around time will you require?
  • What is the word count of the document?
  • Do you require a certified translation, such as those for immigration purposes?
  • Will you require any value-added services such as Desktop Publishing or complex formatting of graphs and tables?

 In turn, the translation agency will give you a cost estimate based on the above factors.  Don’t be seduced by bargain basement quotes, as the adage “you get what you pay for” applies to translations.  A reputable translation agency or freelancer will charge more for highly technical or complex document translation because of the level of expertise required.  And agencies may apply a surcharge for formatting the document so that it mirrors your source language document.  In this case, be prepared to send the agency all images and tables so that the agency can return a print-ready file. Depending on the file format of the original, you may not be able to tell the translation agency the word count.  If you only have a hard copy or scanned copy of the document, agencies will price the project based on either the final word count of the translation or the number of pages.  In this case, the final cost may differ from the initial estimate offered.   Your chosen translation agency should be able to work in various file formats and many are able to provide value-added services such as those mentioned above.  Being clear about what you require in the end product and being open to dialogue with the agency will facilitate not only pricing but also the entire translation process.

Clear Communication with Your Freelance Translator

A qualified English to Spanish translator can save your business time as well as bring in new clients with their document translations. But keeping your communication streamlined and clear will expedite any translation job you contract them to work on.

Below are some tips on getting the most out of your working relationship with a freelancer English to Spanish translator:

  1. Remember, you are the expert on the material to be translated and they are the experts in giving you the end product. You have to put your trust in your translator because you can’t check the accuracy of the final document.  Therefore, hiring a freelancer knowledgeable in the subject matter should be your first priority.
  2. Provide your translator with the final document to be translated, not a draft. If you alter the document midstream, then you may be opening yourself to extra charges depending on what is in your contract with the freelancer.  Not to mention, the translator may have already rendered most of the English document into Spanish, which wastes time.
  3. Keep the lines of communication open! Just as you appreciate a freelancer who checks in about her progress, make sure that communication goes both ways.  Ensuring a timely response to any emails or calls with questions will allow the translator to continuing working.  What may seem an unimportant question to you could hold up a translator as she waits for an answer.
  4. Explain your needs and expectations at the beginning. The nature of freelance translation requires that translators be flexible, but there’s a point where unclear communication can cause a project to crash.  This could ultimately wreck a relationship with a trusted English to Spanish translator.  Head off a communication breakdown by explaining what you expect before starting a project, and make sure that your translator has all her questions answered so that she can start work.

Of course, even translation projects that seem simple at the outset can turn complicated.  But by keeping courtesy, clarity, and communication a focus of your partnership with a freelancer, you will reap the rewards of powerful, accurate Spanish translations.

Finding Translation Work Close to Home

English to Spanish translators who live in urban areas or even rural areas with many Spanish speakers can find translation work close to home.  It’s just a matter of knowing where to look and knowing how to sell your Spanish translation services.  Mining your local resources to find new clients who need documents translated from English to Spanish can help you land a variety of translation assignments.

Below is a list of ideas and resources for you to get started:

1. Local Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Association:

Reach out to potential clients by attending meetings, networking functions, or putting an advertisement for your services in their newsletter.

2. Local Translation Agencies:

Most cities have a number of translation agencies that work with freelance translators, and in many U.S. cities, there is a high demand for English to Spanish as a language pair.  Some nonprofits also have a for-profit branch in which they employ freelancers to do translation work.

3. Nonprofits:

While a nonprofit may not have a big budget and many projects for you to work on, this is an extremely close-knit community.  A nonprofit focusing on education may only need you for a one-time English to Spanish translation of a letter to parents, but you can be sure that this agency has close connections to agencies providing other services with similar translation needs.

4. State and city government departments:

State and city agencies have to comply with laws regarding dissemination of information regardless of native language, and approaching these places may yield some English to Spanish translation work.

5.  Networking with Acquaintances, Friends, and Family:

Even at social events, you know full well that the subject often turns to work, and the business card exchange isn’t far behind.  This tactic may not bear immediate fruit, but you never know when the business card you gave to someone at a cocktail party last year will find its way into the hands of a small business owner who wants to market his services to Spanish speakers.

These five resources are only a start, but as an English to Spanish translator, you understand the importance of marketing your services in creative ways.  Keep in mind that some of the translation work you find might be outside of your specialty area. If you have a medical terminology background but not a legal one, you can’t provide the highest quality translation for a law office.  But that lawyer you turned down may appreciate your honesty and refer you to a doctor he knows needs English to Spanish translations.

Providing Financial Services to the “Unbanked”

An article from the website Hispanic Bank Marketing cites that roughly 56 percent of Latinos are currently “unbanked,” meaning that they do not use financial institutions to keep their money safe and grow their savings.  Why such a high percentage?  The usual suspects of distrust, lack of accessibility, language barriers, and lack of understanding about how financial institutions can help come into play.

So what can banks and credit card companies do to reach out to this growing demographic in such a way that builds trust and shows Latinos how using financial institutions can be beneficial?

1. Having Spanish translations of flyers, publicity, forms, and contracts is always an excellent start.

2. Since online banking is becoming easier every day, a bank should have an easily navigable website available in Spanish.

3. At least one fully bilingual staff person should be available to answer questions, process transactions, and open accounts.

  • 4. Banks and lenders may want to consider providing financial literacy training in community settings (such as at churches or community centers) with the aim of educating potential customers rather than selling products.
  • 5. Once a bank representative finds a group to provide onsite financial literacy training to, she can offer add-on services such as one free credit counseling session at the bank.

Many Latino immigrants arrive in the U.S. with alternate ways of saving money.  An example of this is the Mexican tanda which allows a group of people to pool their savings over time so that each receives a large lump sum, then used to make a larger purchase or down payment.  And though remissions to family in one’s home country are decreasing in this economy, many Latinos continue sending potential savings back home. 

Most likely the latter situation will not change, and is indeed an important part of the Latino immigrant experience.  But by working with Latinos who are uneasy about putting their savings in the bank or nervous about cutting into their remissions, financial institutions can educate Latinos about alternate ways of savings and creating a long term safety net for their families both here and abroad.

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.

Cutting Translation Budget: Good Business Move or Not?

In these tough economic times, many business owners are shaving their budget of unnecessary expenses.  This week, Transpanish’s blog post will talk about the effects of cutting your translation budget.

If your business provides a product or service, cutting your translation budget might actually harm your bottom line in the long run.  This is especially true if you are located in an area with a large number of Latinos.  The Pew Hispanic Center recently released a report about the explosive growth of Latinos in counties where there formerly weren’t many Spanish-speakers.  By checking out the Center’s maps, you can see which areas of the country are expected to see further growth.

Making a commitment to providing quality translations of your marketing materials may foster connections in the Latino community and bolster sales.  If you offer Spanish translations of your documents, you will reach this rapidly growing demographic.  As overall spending decreases, doing outreach to the Spanish-speaking population will spread your sales into new territory.

Many business owners may look to cut costs for Spanish translations by looking in-house, especially if they have bilingual staff.  Is this a good idea?  Probably not, unless your staff also has a background in translation.  Working with a reputable translation agency will ensure that your Spanish translations are accurate and compelling.  This ultimately brings in more business than a sloppy translation done by an already busy staff person.

But contracting your Spanish translations out doesn’t have to be a pricy affair.  A good Spanish translation agency will have translators who can produce quality translations quickly and carefully.  And the longer you work with the same agency, the more familiar that agency becomes with your business and its documents, ultimately reducing overall cost.

Another excellent way to cut costs while maintaining high-quality translations is to ask your translation agency if they have any special offers or if they give a discount for repeat business.

Keeping your translation budget intact and working with a translation agency that prides itself on accurate and economical document translations might give your business the boost it needs.  If you operate in an area with a growing Latino population or have a web presence, documents translated into Spanish can be the business boon you need to survive the flagging economy.

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.