Foreign Languages in the US: Spanish on the Rise

According to information collected during the last US Census, it is definitely a good idea for schools, libraries, clubs, public offices and business organizations to make sure they share information with their public and clients not only in English but also in a foreign language, especially in Spanish and Chinese.

The number of US residents who speak Spanish at home has experienced a stunning increase: it jumped from 11 million in 1980 to nearly 38 million in 2011. In other words, almost two-thirds of the nearly 61 million who speak a language other than English at home are Spanish speakers.

Surprisingly enough, analysts state the proficiency in English is not in danger. Over the last eight years, more Spanish speakers say that they speak English “less than very well”, which is not only a sign of confidence but an indicator that their speaking a foreign language at home does not interfere with their command of the English language.

A state where the bilingual speaking community is noticeable is definitely California: 54% of the over 18 million people aged 5 or more living in metropolitan Los Angeles speak other language (mainly Spanish) besides English.

With such a high number of Spanish speaking people, the US ranks fifth amongst the Spanish speaking countries of the world. It is behind Mexico (117 million), Spain (47.2 million), Colombia (47 million) and Argentina (41 million).

What about other foreign languages?

After Spanish, Chinese followed by a very distant margin: it is spoken by almost 3 million people. Other languages whose use at home has increased significantly are: Vietnamese, Persian, Russian, Korean, Armenian and Tagalog.

Interactive Map Showing Languages Spoken in US

 

 

 

“Wasap” and “Wasapear”: New Additions to the Spanish Language

Languages are living creatures. They are not static; they grow, change and adapt to the current times thus adopting new words that express their speakers’ reality and discarding others that are not useful any longer. Over the last years, most of the changes that languages have experienced are influenced or triggered by the massive use of technology, the Internet and social networks and the impact they have on our every day life.

Spanish is not different from any other language and is also in constant change. In fact, two new words have been recently added to it: “wasap” and “wasapear”, the noun that refers to the free message sent via mobile phone from the application WhatsApp and its derived verb to refer to the action of exchanging messages via WhatsApp.

According to Fundéu, it is also correct to write “guasap” and “guasapear” although it is more appropriate to use the “w” versions of the words in order to respect their commercial origin.

Thus, “wasap” and “wasapear” have been added to the Spanish dictionary together with “tuitear”, in reference to the action of sending messages via Twitter and “tuit” to speak about the message sent through Twitter.

When a Bad Translation Affects Legal Rights

Unless you are in the legal department, you study International Law or you are a fan of American police TV series, the Miranda Rights mean nothing to you. However, if you have ever watched any chapter of Law & Order or CSI Miami and you have seen the scene in which the bad guy is being arrested, you have probably noticed that the detective or police officer always informs the detainee about his right to remain silent and to consult a lawyer. Those are the Miranda Rights.

In previous posts we have already discussed the importance it has for accused people facing a trial who do not speak the country’s language to be able to understand what they are accused of, their rights, their punishment and what is going on in the courtroom. This issue has reached the press once again as a bad Miranda translation led to overturn the conviction of an Oregon man accused of trafficking marijuana and weapons.

According to the news, the man had his Miranda rights improperly translated into Spanish. According to court documents, the detective doing the translation was a native Spanish speaker but, as it has been mentioned before, being fluent in a language does not mean that you are a good translator.

As the detective was reciting the Miranda rights to the Oregon man, he flubbed the part of the warning that states the suspect is entitled to a court-appointed lawyer. He used the Spanish version of the word “free” that means “freedom of action” (“libre”) instead of “at no cost” (“gratis”).

The Court stated that, even though the accused man was read both the English and the Spanish versions of the Miranda rights, he was not informed which one prevailed. In addition, they mentioned that the mistake meant that it was not clear whether the Government would provide him with a lawyer if he wanted to consult with one and he had no money to do so.

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.

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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.

Are You Looking For A Translator? Five Misconceptions You Should Avoid

It is a common belief to assume that having a sound knowledge of a second language is enough to become a translator. In fact, some people think no other skill is required to translate any kind of document. As a result, many people tend to downplay the value and effort of these language experts. In this article we’ll look into the five most common misconceptions you should avoid.

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1.     Being bilingual makes anybody a translator

Being bilingual only means that you have a sound knowledge of two languages. However, a translation is not made word by word. Quite on the contrary, translating implies having a deep understanding of the text written in the source language and knowing how to choose the best words and expressions to convey the message accurately in the target language. And not all bilingual people can do this.

This doesn’t mean that you cannot be a good translator unless you have a translation degree. There are plenty of excellent translators who don’t have formal training but, unfortunately, many people think that they are able to translate just by studying four years of a foreign language in high school. Even if you are a fluent speaker, it doesn’t mean that by default you are a good translator. In fact, it doesn’t imply that you can write in that language or translate into it accurately.

2.     Modern translation machines make translations easier and human translators are no longer needed

The translation tools now available in the market are far from being able to provide a reliable and good translation. Since they only translate sentences totally isolated from the context, they are unable to understand the different meanings that a word may have and, therefore, the translated text usually ends up being an unintelligible bunch of words one after the other. In addition, translation machines are totally unaware of the difference that may exist between the word order in the source language and the target one and it is not strange at all to find awkwardly worded sentences that require a human translator to clear the mess.

3.     “The translation is ready. Can you just proofread it for me?”

It is quite frequent to find translation clients that come to freelance translators or agencies asking to proofread and edit a translation done either by a machine or somebody that doesn’t have a thorough knowledge of the source and target languages. But what the client doesn’t know is that editing this kind of translations usually implies retranslating the whole document again almost from scratch, which means that the fee to pay will be higher than a regular proofreading one.

4.     A 5000 word document can be delivered in two hours

Have you ever tried typing 5000 words in two hours? You need to be really quick; therefore, translating the same amount of words in the same time is totally out of the question. It is quite difficult for a translator to estimate how many words he can translate in an hour as it depends on various factors. Amongst them we can mention: the type of text to be translated, the subject matter (a highly technical article rich in specific jargon takes longer than a general text) and the format.

On average, a professional and experienced translator translates around 250 to 500 words per hour so it would take between 10 or 20 hours to work on a 5000 word document. Needless to say, if you hire an agency, a group of translators may work on the text simultaneously so the translation is ready earlier. However, you should always bear in mind that if you expect a high quality translation you definitely need to allow enough time for the translation to be done.

5.     Every text can be translated in one possible way.

Different translators will translate the same sentence in different ways, being all of them correct. Translation, as language, is not an exact science and, therefore, there is no unique correct way of conveying an idea in a different language. It is true, however, that some translations will be more appropriate for the context or more in tune with the target audience. This is why you should always try to hire a translator who is well acquainted with the industry the document is about and the target audience.

How to Identify a Good Translation

Many people mistakenly believe that being bilingual is all it takes to offer a good translation. As a result, people often ask a friend or relative who has studied a foreign language for four or five years in High School to translate a document for them. However, translating can be considered an art and it is much more than a simple word by word exchange. With this being said, what makes a good translation?

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Firstly, can you tell the text is a translation? Does it read smoothly and sound as if it were originally written in the target language? Good translations do not look like ones. They are well written, ideas flow naturally and carry the sense and atmosphere of the original text. The information is presented clearly and any acronyms are correctly translated and/or explained.

It is also important to pay attention to the accuracy of the translation. The original document needs to be respected and translated completely, without missing any word or sentence, but it has to be grammatically correct and have no spelling mistakes as well. A wrongful translation is difficult to read and understand and can also seriously affect the reputation of the person or business organization that requested it.

Other aspect that should not be forgotten is clarity. The translator needs to ensure, when possible, that the final document is uncluttered, clear and has no complex and long sentences. In fact, it is not strange at all that the translated document is much easier to read than the original.

Finally, the audience should also be taken into consideration. This is important in two ways; on the one hand,  the translated text should be culturally appropriate for the target audience. There  should be no references to religious or political figures that may offend the reader or be controversial and the style needs to respect the tone and formality used by the original writer . On the other hand, the reading level of the audience should be accurately matched. For instance, the words used should be more complex and sentences more elaborated if the text will be read by scientists or high skilled professionals and simpler if it is written for newly arrived immigrants.

As you can see, there are several points that can be applied to determine whether the translation you are reading is good or not. You should bear them in mind next time you are handed in a translation.

A translation error that cost 71 million dollars

The phrase “lost in translation” elicits a host of responses, be they memories of language confusion while traveling, quotes from the film of the same name, or general considerations regarding translation, its possibilities, failures, limits.  The most obvious associations for many are comical in nature, reflecting harmless vocabulary lapses or cultural naiveté. And then there are the more everyday instances of linguistic imprecision or confusing inconvenience.  Finally, there are examples with graver results, examples wherein being “lost” predicates terrible discovery.

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One such example is that of Willie Ramirez, a Cuban-American high school baseball star who, in 1980, found himself in a hospital, quadriplegic.  The culprit of this terrible realization was a simple and avoidable translation error: after Willie was rushed to the hospital for intense headaches and fleeting consciousness, a communication rupture between Willie’s doctors and family members occurred, resulting in Willie being treated incorrectly for a self-induced drug overdose, allowing an intracerebellar hemorrhage to fester, unnoticed for two days.

The rupture stemmed from a single word—predictably, a false cognate: intoxicado.  In Cuban Spanish, it is used to describe a person who’s ingested bad food or drink; it is not used like the English intoxicated, which refers exclusively to someone who’s consumed alcohol or drugs.  The words were apparently used to both inquire if Willie had ingested drugs and to state that Willie may have been sick after consuming a bad hamburger at the fast-food chain Wendy’s.

The imperfect memory of both the medical workers and Willie’s family regarding exactly what was said and who said it leave only the word intoxicado as the official record.  Once the hemorrhage was discovered, emergency surgery was performed, but the lasting damage was done.  A resulting lawsuit brought a settlement of $71 million.  The annual salary of a medical interpreter is $40 thousand.

Although the case is improbable and singular, it is nonetheless a terrible reminder of translation’s value and necessity.

Read more on this story here.

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.

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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?

Globalization and translation rates

In general, globalization is highly beneficial to the translation industry, as the ¨geographic¨ (one of many applicable adjectives) expansion of people/culture/industry is closely linked to the acquisition of new languages or, at least, the need to communicate effectively in foreign languages. Thus, a rising demand for translations and translators.

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It may be said that native English-speaking translators have benefited most from the phenomenon, as the economic prominence of many English-speaking nations has catalyzed a new need for English in various realms; but, as globalization persists, the perceived need for such translators wanes. That is, the advent of so many new English speakers has necessarily resulted in a greater number of translators who, either due to economic circumstances (i.e. location) or a perceived (or admitted) imperfect command of English, charge significantly less for their translation services. Of course, among them are the many with complete English mastery. Although in most cases clients would still prefer native English speakers for obvious reasons, the low cost alternative sometimes trumps all.

How, then, should native English translators, as well as native translators of any language experiencing rapid growth, adjust to these changes? One option is to maintain (or even increase) current translation rates and justify them with the indeed crucial fact that non-native speakers rarely translate as effectively as natives, that language primacy is undeniably superior. In other words, promote these services as a worthy investment, e.g. “if you want to communicate as effectively and authentically as possible, you should invest in the most authentic and effective services available”.

Another option, though, is to adjust to these lowered rates and rethink service promotion. Many native translators have chosen this route, and through various innovative market strategies that above all incorporate the Internet, have emerged successful.

This latter group of course threatens the former, if a client is able to pay less for comparable translations by a native speaker, he or she will obviously do so. In time, then, it seems likely that many traditionalists will follow suit. And perhaps they should, for if the rates were to standardize, native translators would ostensibly reemerge as the preferred option. This could ultimately catalyze a new era of increased rates, and thus a new era of success.

Are you a translator? Did you have to lower your rates due to globalization? Tell us your story!