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.
Uruguayan Musician Rubén Rada supports the campaign
A new campaign is picking up steam to eradicate instances of racism in the Spanish language. The contentious phrase, “trabajar como un negro” (“to work like a black person”), is unifying musicians, famous athletes, and officials in a call to Spain’s Real Academia Española (RAE) to eliminate the phrase for being discriminatory and outdated.
The RAE is a royal institution responsible for regulating the Spanish language including its lexicon, grammar, orthography and other linguistic aspects. The institution received an open letter signed by several figures which was then published and disseminated around the Spanish-speaking world by various media outlets.
The phrase has roots in the history of African slavery on the continent, and is sometimes compared to the expression “to slave away” in English. Proponents for its eradication from common speech argue that it recalls a time of discrimination, inequality and subjugation which Uruguay — and the Spanish-speaking world as a whole — would best leave in the past. They also argue that removing it from the Spanish language would help break the cycle of using pejorative language in reference to certain ethnic groups.
The petition can be viewed at http://www.borremoselracismodellenguaje.com/s.php. Those who would like to add their name to its list of supporters can also sign the petition at the same web address.
Image courtesy of: U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Towards the end of November 2012, an impactful memo was released to little media attention by the Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, David V. Aguilar. The memo simply stated that Border Patrol agents would no longer respond to requests for language assistance (e.g. Spanish interpretation) from law enforcement officers who are not within the Department of Homeland Security. U.S. Border Patrol agents are required to be bilingual and traditionally have met the interpreting needs of law enforcement agents from other departments.
While the exact cause of this memo remains elusive, it comes shortly after the Northwest Immigrant Rights Projects filed a civil rights complaint arguing that the use of Border Patrol agents as interpreters unfairly limited access to government services for people being questioned who had limited English abilities. Immediately after the policy change was announced, the American Immigration Council hailed the decision, adding that these interpretation services “unconstitutionally targeted individuals for deportation based on the fact that they looked or sounded foreign and eroded trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement agencies.”
The memo further added that law enforcement personnel outside of the Department of Homeland Security would instead be given “a list of available local and national translation services.” As a result, Spanish interpreters working in the private sector would fill agents’ needs moving forward. However, critics of the policy change argue that interdepartmental collaboration would be severely hindered, including evidence-gathering and even officer safety. They add that while it may not affect agents working close to the border with Mexico – where most personnel are already bilingual – it could have serious repercussions for those working farther away from the border.
The change comes at a time when the number of Border Patrol agents is increasing rapidly, along with the federal budget which funds their operations.
As the 2012 U.S. elections draw ever closer, some candidates scramble to curry favor with influential Latino voters while others have dismissed the Hispanic vote altogether. However, the impact of the Latino vote in this year’s elections cannot be ignored by those seeking office, as Latino voters’ say at the ballot box will make or break competitive Senate races and decide who ascends to the office of president (or remains there) for the next four years.
The flexibility of the Latino vote means that this crucial demographic could swing either way politically in this year’s election. Most Republican candidates have firmly taken an anti-immigrant stance, and many of the party’s key priorities fail to resonate with Latinos. Nonetheless, President Obama hasn’t come through on important campaign promises to the Hispanic community and has, in fact, distanced himself from many in the demographic by increasing the number of deportations.
Immigration is the key issue for Latino voters. A recent poll conducted by Univision News revealed immigration reform as the number one concern for registered Hispanic voters, followed closely by jobs and the economy. Even when voters find that they agree with a candidate’s take on economic issues, they are less likely to vote for that candidate if he supports restrictive immigration policies.
In spite of a tremendous push to register Latino voters in 2008 and 2010, only some 60% of Latino adults are registered to vote, in comparison with 70% of blacks and 74% of whites. So, while the Latino population is experiencing dramatic growth, the influence of the Hispanic demographic on the 2012 election could be even greater than expected if voter registration drives result in more Latinos on the rolls.
The Latino community is engaged and energized ahead of these elections. Organizations such as The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and Mi Familia Vota are working hard to register every eligible Latino voter and to encourage Hispanic turnout at this year’s election, which is predicted to be 25% higher than in the previous presidential election.
Companies and multinational corporations operating in the global market require translation services for many aspects of their business. Marketing materials, websites, help forums, compliance documentation, technical handbooks, and human resource manuals all require language support. To meet demand, departments routinely contract with various translation service providers from around the world; however, in light of budget constraints and corporate belt-tightening, perhaps this isn’t the most sensible approach.
The independent market research firm Common Sense Advisory released new data that confirms the benefits of centralizing language services with one trusted provider. Using this approach can lead to decreased costs and faster times to market for greater volumes of translated material. The firm conducted a survey with 226 respondents at international companies that purchase translation services. In spite of global economic concerns, the majority of these firms reported that their translation spending had increased from 2010 to 2011.
Key findings in the report “Translation Performance Metrics” include:
- Translation costs are extremely small in comparison to the revenue they create. Virtually all companies noted that their translation costs fell well below 1% of total revenue.
- Key industries are spending more on translation services. Spending increased by more than ¼ in the financial services, health care, manufacturing and insurance sectors.
- The budget for translation services correlates to the size of the firm. The majority of companies anticipate an increase in their budget for translation services. Firms with revenue in excess of US $10 billion expect the highest percentage increase (31.1%).
- There’s an upward trend in project size and the number of languages. Large translation projects consisting of one million words or more increased across almost all industries. The organizations that participated in the survey estimated that ¼ of their projects would contain a million or more words by the year 2012. In 2009, projects of 10,000 words or less were translated into an average of 16 languages, with predictions for 2012 estimating some 20 different target languages.
For more information, visit Common Sense Advisory.
Just in case you need more proof that most machine translation tools don’t quite cut the mustard, the latest attempt by social media giant Facebook to incorporate machine translation (MT) into its platform fails miserably with most languages.
In an effort to help pages connect better with their fan base—often found scattered across the globe—Facebook recently introduced machine translation, powered by Bing. With just one click, users can get an automatic translation of status updates and comments. Facebook plans to roll out this feature to all profiles (not just pages) in the near future.
There’s just one problem: most of the translations are unintelligible. Posts on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are rife with slang, and Bing’s machine translation tool simply isn’t up to task. An analysis of Bing’s performance by the site Lexiophiles shows that Bing only gets it right about 50% of the time, leaving users confused and, at worst, possibly misled by faulty translations. Interestingly, out of the ten languages tested, posts translated from Spanish to English fared worst of all, with less than 10% of the rendered text considered intelligible.
For greater accuracy, Facebook will also be implementing a feature that allows bilingual users to offer an alternative translation. If other users endorse the accuracy of the crowdsourced translation, it will take the place of Bing’s original translation the next time the “Translate” option is clicked. Page administrators will be able to manage crowdsourced translations through a “manage translations” link below the posts on pages they control.
One of the great arguments in favor of MT has always been that it can at least offer users a gist of the conversation when no other means of translation is available. It seems that, at least for now, Bing’s tool doesn’t even offer that to Facebook’s users.