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

A Primer for Translation Buyers: Part Two

Last week, Transpanish offered tips to understand the difference between interpretation and translation and a guide to pricing.  This week, we will focus on how to choose the best translator for your needs.

Here are some key questions to ask as you start the process of choosing a translation agency or freelance translator:

1.    Does the translator only translate into her native language?

As a general rule, translators should only translate from their non-native language and into their native language.  This is mainly because, no matter how proficient someone is in speaking and writing in a second language, there will always be nuances and phrasing that only native speakers can get right.  Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, as there are translators out there who have spent so much time writing and reading in their non-native language that they are just a step away from being a native speaker.

2.    Do I just need translation services or are there other add-ons that I will need?

If you need services such as desktop publishing, graphic design, or project management, you may want to go with a larger translation agency which can provide the highest quality for these value-added services.  If you prefer to stick with a freelance translator, make sure that the translator has extensive experience in these additional services.

3.    Does the agency or translator have glowing recommendations?

Ask for references from the agency or translator and check into them.  Ask what their experience was like, the quality of the work, and if they’d recommend the service to others.

4.    Do you want someone local for face-to-face meetings?

If you think it’s important to have face-to-face time with your agency or freelancer, your choices will be much more limited.  But if you’re willing to work with someone available via email, chat, and phone, you can choose the best freelancer or agency independent of their location.

5.    Are you willing to pay for quality?

There is a big difference between economical translation services and those that are downright cheap.  Be wary of bargain basement translations, as this might be a sign that the freelancer or agency doesn’t provide the highest quality translations.  On the other hand, just because a translator has low prices doesn’t mean that they will give you a shoddy translation.  It may just mean that they are starting out and don’t have the years of experience that allow them to command higher prices.

Just as with any other service, you will need to shop around, ask questions, and go with your gut.  If you choose wrong the first time and end up unhappy with the service, there are thousands of high-quality, well-priced agencies and freelancers that would be thrilled to have your business.

A Primer for Translation Buyers: Part One

As a potential translation buyer, you have probably already decided that you need some of your materials translated into one or more foreign languages.  Your company may also do business internationally so you need correspondence or business plans translated for your partners and clients abroad.  This two-part article will guide you through the nuts and bolts of working with translators so that you end up with the best finished product possible.

Interpretation vs. Translation

Most laypeople use the words interpretation and translation interchangeably when in fact they are very different and practitioners of each use different skill-sets.  Of course, both interpretation and translation deal with language, but the medium of the former is the spoken word and the latter the written word.

Translators work from a written document in the source language to render a document in the target languageInterpreters provide real-time translation of the spoken word, either over the phone, in large meetings or conferences, or in small-group settings.

Your company may need both translation and interpretation services, but don’t assume that your translator will be able to provide both for you.  This is because of the different skill-sets each service requires.  Great translators are exceptionally adept with the written word and interpreters with the spoken word.  While some translators also work as interpreters, this isn’t always the case.  Furthermore, you may be working remotely with a translator and in many instances, you’ll need an interpreter to work with you onsite.

For an excellent description of the differences between translation and interpretation, follow this link to a post on the Brave New World blog.

Understanding Pricing

Your translation agency or independent translator should always provide you with a price quote before beginning the project.

There are a few factors that will determine how much your translation will cost.  First, the length of the document and number of words is taken into account.  Translators can quote a price based on number of words/length of documents in three ways:

  • Number of words in source document
  • Number of words in final translated document (especially if the words in the source document cannot be counted, as in hard copy or scanned documents)
  • Number of pages in the source document

Other pricing considerations include:

  • The complexity or technical nature of the document (i.e. expect to pay more for a legal contract than a brochure describing services).
  • Value-added services such as Desktop Publishing.
  • Turn-around time (you will be charged a flat fee or a percentage of the base quote if you request a rush translation).

Transpanish’s next blog post will offer you tips on choosing the best translator.

Spanglish in the United States

There’s language as it appears in grammar books and there’s language as it’s truly spoken every day. The way that bilingual Spanish and English speakers in the United States combine the two languages is a perfect example of this phenomenon. In every day vernacular, people use the term Spanglish to describe the mixing of the two languages. But from a linguistic perspective, the term Spanglish lumps together several different ways of using the two languages under this umbrella.

Below are brief descriptions of a few terms linguists use to describe the linguistic phenomena many understand to be hallmarks of Spanglish:

1. Code-switching: when bilinguals use elements of both languages in conversation, either between sentences or within a single sentence.
2. Loanword: a word directly taken from another language with little or no translation.
3. Language contact: borrowing vocabulary and other language features from another language.

While Spanglish is not yet considered a separate language as Haitian Creole or Cape Verdean Creole is, scholars are beginning to take its use more seriously as the number of bilingual Latinos in the U.S. grows. Many continue to distrust Spanglish because of its status of not quite English and not quite Spanish.

But Ilan Stevens, author of Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language, speaks to the value of Spanglish:

“Latinos are learning English,” he says. “That doesn’t mean that they should sacrifice their original language or that they should give up this in-betweeness that is Spanglish. Spanglish is a creative way also of saying, ‘I am an American and I have my own style, my own taste, my own tongue.'”
(from: Spanglish, A New American Language : NPR)

For more online resources about Spanglish:

Don Quixote de La Mancha: Spanglish version
NPR interview with Ilan Stevens

Examples of Spanglish

Spanglish Spanish English
breaka frenos brakes
carpeta alfombra carpet
chequear verificar to check
glasso vaso glass
ganga pandilla gang
likear gotear to leak
mailear enviar coreo to mail
marketa mercado market
norsa enfermera nurse
puchar empujar to push
ruffo techo roof
signear firmar to sign

Spanish-Language Statistics

If you live in the United States, you’re probably no longer surprised to overhear Spanish being spoken. But just how widespread is the Spanish language in the world today? Over 250 million people speak Spanish as their first language and if we include those who speak Spanish as their second language, the total number of Spanish speakers is over 400 million.Within the United States, Spanish is the second most widely spoken language. According to the 2006 US Census, over 34 million people primarily speak Spanish at home.

Some more facts about Spanish usage in the United States:

  • Over half of the country’s Spanish speakers live in California, Texas, and Florida.
  • 19% percent of Hispanics in the U.S. speak only Spanish, 9% speak only English, 55% speak very limited English, and 17% are fully English-Spanish bilingual.
  • Almost all second-generation Hispanic Americans speak English and 50% speak Spanish at home.

It’s clear that over generations in the U.S., Hispanics shift from being Spanish-dominant to English-dominant, as explained in a previous blog post. But it also remains clear that as immigrants continue to arrive in the United States with little to no English-language proficiency, there remains a need in the marketplace for products and services to be marketed in Spanish.

Text Expansion in Spanish Translations

If you’ve ever listened to a Spanish-English interpreter, you may have wondered why the interpreter’s translation into English of a Spanish statement seemed so much shorter and the converse so much longer. What you’ve witnessed is contraction and expansion when translating between two languages.

The same thing occurs in written translations, and can affect how your final document appears if you don’t take text expansion into account when creating your layout. When translating from English into Spanish, the text may expand up to 20% and when working into Spanish from English, the text can contract up to 15%.

If you need a document with a fixed template or page count translated, such as a brochure or newsletter, not taking text expansion or contraction into account can make your best graphic design attempts fall apart in translation.

Here are a couple of tips to avoid large expanses of white space or overcrowding in the final translated document:

  • Use a larger font in English to account for text expansion into Spanish and a smaller font for Spanish to English translations.
  • Have a translation-friendly template ready with reduced point size and decreased space between paragraphs.
  • Avoid document styles such as nested lists, since what looks clean and crisp in English may look silly when translated into Spanish.

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

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.



























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, 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.

Reaching Your Spanish-Speaking Audience with Global Translations

Your business wants to target Spanish-speakers residing in the United States, and the best way to do this is to have your materials translated into Spanish. So you contract a translation agency to provide you with an effective translation. Simple, right? But your publicity materials and product descriptions are meant to be read by Spanish-speakers all over the country. You want your message to be understood by educated Cubans in Miami, bicultural and bilingual New York Puerto Ricans, and first-generation Mexican immigrants. Each of these groups has a distinct accent, vocabulary, and set of regional phrases.

How can one translation impact all of these groups? Some translation agencies provide translations into what the industry calls neutral, standard, or universal Spanish translations. Put into simple terms, these translations are meant to be understood by the widest range of Spanish speakers possible, and are mostly free of regionalisms and any marker that distinguishes word usage as being from a specific country.

Some caveats about “neutral” or “standard” Spanish:

• Many translators argue that there is no truly neutral Spanish, but rather only an attempt to make written material as widely understood as possible.

• By trying to reach every segment of the Hispanic demographic, you may end up with a diluted message (a conversation with your translation agency about whether to use a global versus local translation would avoid this situation).

• Because Spanish-speakers are so linguistically diverse, there are some English words that have no universally understood Spanish equivalent (again, a good translation agency will be able to produce a document that will be understood by most Spanish speakers).

• Neutral Spanish is better suited for certain types of translations such as technical or industry-specific ones in which the vocabulary is more uniform.

• Neutral Spanish may not be suited for a message involving jokes or double-entendres. A quip that would get a chuckle from a Colombian businessperson may leave a Mexican farm worker scratching his head, thus possibly alienating a potential customer.

A good translation agency will be able to guide you through the process of deciding whether a neutral translation is the most effective way to transmit your message. If your target audience is US, the best option is to translate into Neutral Spanish.