Serving the Latino Community: Health Care Translations

Many people experience anxiety when dealing with health care and medical situations, and this is especially true when English isn’t the first language of patients and their families.  Treatment plans and other health-related documents can be filled with medical jargon that seems foreign even to native English speakers.

As the population of Spanish-speakers continues to grow in the United States, so has the need to provide Hispanics with accurate information that can be readily comprehended.  This often means providing Spanish-speakers with health care information that has been translated into Spanish.

Below is a list of some of the documents that health care providers should provide to patients and their families in Spanish:

Instructions for taking prescription medicines

  • Materials with information about health and wellness issues
  • Simple explanations of diseases and sicknesses and how to avoid them
  • Medical releases and consent forms
  • Hospital and insurance reports
  • Brochures about services provided
  • Information about patients’ rights and responsibilities

Not only will providing Spanish translations of documents that directly affect the health of patients allow you to provide better and more comprehensive care to a growing demographic, but it will also protect you from any ramifications arising from misunderstandings due to language barriers.  By using a reputable translation agency that is able to translate your materials into the language your patients understand best, you will be giving peace of mind to both those you serve and your health care facility. 

Your chosen translation agency should be able to render a Spanish translation that is accessible to the target population.  Two of the most important things the agency should do for you is make the translation understandable to people with a low literacy level and use language that a layperson can understand. 

A Client’s Guide to Making Translations Go Smoothly

When choosing a translator or translation agency to work with, you’re essentially starting a relationship with a business partner.  If your company launches itself into the international market or has constituents who don’t speak English, the quality of translations your business disseminates could make or break your business.  Below are some tips to get you started thinking about how to make your relationship with your translator more fluid and productive.

Determine Why You Need a Translation

Do you need a translation for information purposes or for publication purposes?  Have a conversation with your translator about why you need the translation: is it to sell your product abroad to millions or to inform 5 staff people in a foreign office of a policy change?  Of course, a great translator will make sure that any translation is suitable for its audience, but for-publication translations demand only the highest level of polish and accuracy while for-information translations transmit information.

Pay Attention to the Details in the Source Document

Make sure that your source document is clearly written and finalized before passing it along to your translator.  This will save both you and the translator time as she/he won’t need to contact you repeatedly for clarification of the message or wording of what you provided.  Also, be careful to send only source documents that are ready to be disseminated or published as sending draft copies will hold up translation of the document.  If there are significant changes to the source document that the translator already worked on, you might be asked to pay extra fees for the extra work. 

Keep in mind the cultural references and linguistic choices that you make in the source document, as they might not translate well into the target language.  Also, be aware of the target audience for your translation and make sure that your translator knows what you expect.  This will head off any misunderstanding that might occur if the translator wasn’t sure whether the document was meant for all of Latin America or only one country. 

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

Most misunderstandings between client and translator can be avoided if the client is forthcoming about the project and the translator asks questions when necessary.  It’s important to remember that some translations are more time intensive than others and that you need to communicate the details of a project ahead of time so that the translator can return quality work to you by the established deadline. 

For more tips, please read A Primer for Translation Buyers: Part One and A Primer for Translation Buyers: Part Two

Google Translation Center Announced to Online Community

The online translation community is abuzz with the news that Google has announced the start of a Google Translation Center.  The discussion revolves around two main questions: how exactly the service will work and how having an Internet giant like Google providing a platform for translation services will affect freelance translators’ business.

How Will Google’s Service Work?

Clients will be able to upload the documents they need translated and then choose from the price quotes that individual translators will provide.  Translators will use Google’s web-based tools to create and review translations and the “Translator’s Workbench” will provide translators with tools such as a revision history, a glossary, or a history of previous translations. Google, at least as currently explained, will simply serve as a middleman, coordinating services and providing the platform and tools for clients and translators alike.

Throughout the preliminary discussions, one topic on which everyone still seems unclear is that of Translation Memory (refer to previous Transpanish posts for an intro to TM here and here) and how Google will implement it.  It seems that Google wants to create a meta-TM through which individual translators will have access to all similar translations previously inputted into the system.  This raises the question of ownership (clients usually own the rights to translations input into TM, as they’ve paid for the translations) and quality of what is uploaded into the global TM (Google states that individual translators will be solely responsible for quality control of what they produce).

How Will the Service Affect Freelance Translators?

Since Google has not yet unrolled its Beta version, professional translators can only speculate on the effect that Google Translation Center will have on their business.  On the Proz Forum discussion of this topic, translators are understandably concerned about the quality of the output, especially since creating a solid, accurate TM takes time as texts are translated and fed into the system.

Google Blogoscoped offers a preliminary analysis of the service’s features and included screenshots of the tools that GTC will offer to the translator.  Access to these free tools (questions about the TM aside) could be very good news for freelancers and GTC may very well open up a world of freelance gigs to professional translators.  However, freelancers are concerned about whether potential clients will be willing to pay market rates for translations when looking for a translator on GTC.

Of course, the online translation community can only speculate on GTC’s effects on the translation industry until the service is actually rolled out.

To read more commentary on the service, read Brian McConnell’s blog post, “GTC: The World’s Largest Translation Memory.”

Voting en Español: The U.S. Presidential Race

With an estimated population of 44.3 million as of July 2006, Hispanics are the nation’s largest ethnic minority in the U.S. It’s no wonder that the three main presidential hopefuls (McCain, Obama, and Clinton until just recently) spend a lot of time and money courting this powerful demographic. The political realm is always convoluted and ever-changing, but throughout the presidential race, each contender has reached out to win over the Hispanic community in a variety of ways and to different degrees.

Each candidate has his or her webpage translated into Spanish and clicking through their online information and rhetoric shows varying levels of commitment to swaying the Hispanic vote in their favor.

Take, for instance, Obama’s Spanish language website. While all the navigational buttons are in Spanish, when you click on Temas (Issues), you are taken to a page in English. He also hasn’t updated his blog since the beginning of May.

Senator Hillary Clinton’s Spanish language website has a substantial amount of information and commentary in Spanish. But her navigational buttons are all in English and you must scroll down to the bottom to get to the Spanish information on the right sidebar.

John McCain’s website en Español has the most attractive, eye-catching layout and you can access the majority of his website in Spanish. Upon opening the website, a voice over from a former Cuban political prisoner presents support for McCain’s campaign.

Of course, the measure of a presidential candidate’s dedication to the Hispanic community can’t be solely determined by how well his or her website is translated. Each candidate has aired Spanish language TV and radio spots and both Clinton and Obama have released campaign songs in Spanish.

Follow these links for a sampling of the candidates’ multi-media Spanish outreach:

• John McCain’s first Spanish language ads.

• Barack Obama: Reggaeton campaign song; Viva Obama!; footage of a speech in Spanish.

• Hillary Rodham Clinton: song for Texas primaries; press release announcing ads, including a Spanish language one (note: has been removed from YouTube).

While each candidate purports to reaching out to the Hispanic community Obama seems to be getting the most press for his efforts. HispanicTips, which is a leading blog that compiles news of note for Latinos, is heavy on the Obama article links in their Election ’08 section. All three have web presences in Spanish, but what will really matter to the Latinos is the stance on issues of import that each takes.

Tools for Translators

Translators use a multitude of tools to make their work easier and more efficient. However, many are quite costly so it’ll take time to acquire all of the resources necessary to make your work as fast and accurate as possible. Most translators use a combination of computer-based and hard copy resources. Of course, it depends on preference as to whether you primarily use computer or paper resources.Below you’ll find a brief description of certain tools that you should have on your wish list.

Dictionaries and Glossaries

I like the Gran Diccionario Oxford: Español-Ingles, Ingles-Español as a general, comprehensive dictionary.

Of course, a general Spanish-English dictionary can only get you so far when you are doing specialized translations in your field of expertise. In these cases, you will need a dictionary with specific entries for your field. There are many dictionaries which cover technical, engineering, and scientific terms.

A hot topic on the Proz Translators’ Resources forum is glossaries. While the forum covers all language pairs, translators can find links to extensive glossaries for specific language pairs and post a query if they can’t find information about the glossary they need.

But both dictionaries and glossaries fall short when a translator needs to know how to translate a colloquial phrase. Word Reference has an active forum that you can visit if you are working with a phrase whose translation eludes you. The search function will lead you to not only a translation of the word, but links to previous forum discussions about related phrases. If you don’t find the answer you need, a posted question will be answered by an active community of translators and linguaphiles.

If you prefer to store your tools on your computer, many dictionaries have a CD ROM version for you to purchase.

Targeting different Spanish-Speaking Audiences Through Translation

Last month, Transpanish posted an article about using Neutral Spanish to reach the widest possible Spanish-speaking audience. Those who translate documents into neutral or standard Spanish strive to remove any vocabulary or markers that would identify the text with a specific region where Spanish is spoken. Using neutral Spanish is useful when your document will get distributed in more than one country.

But if your goal is to market a product or spread your message in the U.S., you may want to consider a more tightly targeted translation. Rather than trying to reach all Spanish-speakers in the U.S., you should work with your translation agency to define the demographic you want to reach so as to make your message more potent.
Are you selling real estate to educated immigrants in Florida? Promoting a new cell phone plan to young urban Puerto Ricans in New York? Or informing first-generation Mexican immigrants in the Southwest of the importance of prenatal care?

All of these groups speak Spanish with a different vocabulary, different idioms, and slightly different speech patterns. The short, snappy sentences that will sell a cell phone plan to young Puerto Ricans may turn off older immigrants from South America. The tone that gets your business new customers looking to retire will be too stuffy for the younger crowd.

Of course, attention to your audience is always important in any kind of writing. When you’re not only trying to target your intended audience, but also trying to make sure that the target text is faithful to the source, the expertise of your translation agency becomes even more critical. This is especially true if you don’t speak or understand Spanish, as you have to completely trust that the contracted agency has the knowledge necessary to create a translation that targets your specific demographic.

Related Articles
Researching Neutral Spanish Terms and Dialect-Specific Terms
Reaching Your Spanish-Speaking Audience with Global Translations
The Use of Neutral Spanish for the U.S. Hispanic Market

Spanish usage in US

On April 23, 2008 Transpanish posted a blog article about the movement to cultivate the usage of “proper” Spanish on the Internet. Remember that this movement originated in Spain. But what importance does this movement have on Spanish speakers residing in the United States? The usage of proper written and spoken Spanish may still be of import in university Hispanic Studies or translation studies programs in which students are working from documents written by native Spanish speakers. But the reality of spoken and written Spanish and how they’re used in the U.S. is very different from what the Real Academia Española purports.

Take the following points into consideration:

• Mainly monolingual Spanish speakers immigrate to the U.S., but by the third generation, the descendants of those immigrants are primarily English speakers.

• The children and grandchildren of first-generation immigrants generally speak some Spanish, but are educated in English and therefore do not have a background in the conventions of written Spanish.

• Spanish speakers in the U.S. are extremely heterogeneous with regard to their educational level and country of origin.

• Spanish speakers, regardless of their fluency in English, must to some degree navigate an English speaking world.

The result of these combined points is that Spanish spoken in the U.S. is constantly transforming and deeply informed by English, which results in the unique language that we refer to as Spanglish.

Spanglish is the popular term for what linguists refer to as code-switching, which can be either mixing English and Spanish terms within the same sentence (i.e. “Voy a hacer un appointment” instead of “I’m going to make an appointment”) or transforming words from one language by applying the conventions of another (i.e. parquear instead of to park). Spanglish can only be used when both the speaker and listener are equally versed in both Spanish and English, the numbers of which are constantly growing.

Because of this, those who market to Spanish, English, and Spanglish speakers have to be flexible and aware of the truly fluid nature of language use in this country. A good translation agency will be able to help clients navigate the constantly transforming landscape of Spanish as it is spoken in the U.S.

Words with the letter eñe (ñ)

In our last post we discussed the importance of the use of the letter eñe. Below are some words with “ñ”. One tip: If your keyboard doesn´t have the Spanish layout, you may type the eñe by pressing and holding ALT and 164.

España                                

señor                                    

señora                                  

señorita

señal   

compañero 

daño                                

rebaño     

baño

migraña

muñeca                        

riña                                       

puño

niño                                      

niña                                      

estaño                                  

paño

año                                       

tamaño                                 

sueño                                   

mañana

montaña

cariñoso

buñuelo

caña

piñas

The Contested Eñe: “Pure” and “Impure” Spanish

While written Spanish is rife with diacritical marks (a.k.a. accent marks), there is none as sexy and symbolic as the eñe. Take for example, the commonly used word, año (year). Remove the eñe, and you’re left with ano, which is the Spanish word for anus. In most cases, leaving out the accent won’t result in possible embarrassment, but there is currently a movement which posits that the use of accents online is critical to maintaining the integrity and purity of written Spanish.

The movement was borne out of the initiative of the Real Academia Española, which finds that with the spread of Internet use, online communications should be held to the same standards as written Spanish. La Academia Argentina de Letras and the Instituto Cervantes also back the campaign.

To this end, Internet domains originating in Spain can now be registered with Spanish’s beloved and emblematic ñ. Internet addresses registered in Spain will thus be more descriptive and possibly less misleading. For example, if one wants to register an organization called Campaña Para los Derechos Humanos (Campaign for Human Rights), they can now do so and keep their Internet domain faithful to the organization’s name. Previously, they’d have to omit the ñ from the address, and would be left with the potentially confusing campanaparalosderechoshumanos.com, which means “The Bell of Human Rights.” In examples such as this, one sees how critical the correct use of ñ becomes, as campana means bell and campaña means campaign or movement.

You may wonder: why is using accent marks so critical? Realize that this is mostly an academic movement of language purists. They maintain that the integrity of correctly written Spanish must be kept across all forms of written Spanish, even in the often informal and fast-paced medium of the Internet. Furthermore, the Campaña Pro-Eñe reminds us that accents in Spanish are not extra flourishes that we can choose to use or leave out as we wish, but are in fact necessary components of a correctly spelled word.

If accent marks are so critical in written Spanish, why are they often left out? Some reasons for their omission are:

• Efficiency, as inserting accent marks takes an extra moment and extra key strokes.

• Keyboards not specifically set up for writing in Spanish often make it difficult to quickly insert accents.

• Use of increasingly informal written Spanish, especially in online communications.

• Lack of knowledge about which words include accent marks, even for those educated in Spanish.

• Inability to adapt the Internet as a primarily English-speaking medium to the written conventions of Spanish.

• The different educational levels of Internet users, as many do not have the educational background to feel at ease with accent usage.

The movement to encourage correct accent mark usage on the Internet serves to combat the abovementioned reasons. However, only time will tell if this movement has the support and general interest to win over regular Internet users as well as academics.

New York Hospitals Making Improvements in Spanish Interpretation Services

The availability of Spanish interpretation services in New York City hospitals has improved in the last two years, but more services are needed for speakers of other languages, according to a report released this week by the New York Immigration Coalition and other groups, the Newsday reports.

The report, “Now We’re Talking,” is based on surveys conducted between October 2007 and February of 617 New York City residents who speak Spanish or Korean and no English. Officials stressed that the study is only a snapshot of the issue and is not scientific, according to AP/Newsday. According to Adam Gurvitch, NYIC’s director of health advocacy, the state has made “real strides” in providing Spanish translation services, but a “real disparity” still remains for other languages.

The report found that 79% of respondents said they were able to receive interpretation services in state hospitals. Before state health officials began requiring hospitals to provide interpretation services for non-English-speaking patients in 2006, 29% of respondents in a similar survey reported receiving interpretation services, according to the report. Before the regulation, it was common for non-English-speaking residents to be told to provide their own interpreter, such as a friend or family member. The new survey found that 5% of non-English-speaking residents were told to bring their own interpreter.

The report called for more interpretation services for other patients who do not speak English, especially Arabic, Bengali, Haitian Creole, Korean and Russian speakers. According to advocacy groups, language barriers can make it difficult for patients to explain symptoms, understand diagnoses and navigate the insurance system, potentially leading to medical mistakes, misdiagnosis or death. They added that relying on nonprofessional interpreters to provide medical information violates patient privacy and could be traumatizing for an interpreter who is a child or family member.

Andrew Friedman, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, a civil rights organization that participated in the report, said, “It is simply impossible to provide quality health care unless patients can communicate their symptoms clearly, understand their diagnosis and knowingly consent to medical procedures” (Franklin, AP/Long Island Newsday, 4/19).