Should Americans Learn Spanish?

If you visit any of the scores of language immersion programs in Latin America, you’d think that Americans are thrilled to learn Spanish.  And anyone who attended a four year college or university probably had a least a few friends who spent a semester in Spain, Guatemala, or Argentina. 

But set foot in the United States and you’ll find a different sentiment about learning another language, especially if it’s Spanish.  For every newspaper article about the need to hire more bilingual police officers or court interpreters providing their services, you’ll find a litany of the same complaints.  These include: my grandma came from Italy and she learned English so Hispanics better too; why are my tax dollars paying police a salary differential for speaking the language of the illegals?; and if you don’t learn English, go back to your country?

Why is going abroad and learning some Spanish celebrated as a way to expand your mind, learn about a new culture, put some “Latin flavor” in your life, and add a new experience to your resume but the moment you reward someone for speaking Spanish in the States you are pandering to the “illegals” and eroding the fabric of America?  Do the benefits of flexing your linguistic muscles disappear once you’re Stateside? 

There will always be people who become enraged if the cashier at McDonald’s has a thick accent or immediately assumes that if your English is flawed or you speak Spanish to your partner you are an illegal alien.  And people will continue to battle against bilingual education even as their little American child holds hands with another child from Mexico, singing and chattering in English and in Spanish.

But for those who are intrigued about learning Spanish, even as you worry that the face of America is changing into something you don’t recognize, take some small steps toward learning about the varied facets of Latino culture and see if it still scares you.  Download some Marco Antonio Solis.  Learn to make chimichurriWatch the actors on a telenovela and see if you can follow the story through their gestures. 

Next time you’re in line behind a Spanish-speaking family in Walmart, maybe you won’t think to yourself: “Why don’t they just go back to their country if they don’t speak English?”

Online Resources for Spanish-English Translators

Freelance translation work can be a very lonely pursuit, as many Spanish-English translators can attest.  But the Internet is rich with resources for translators that include community and assistance with translations.  This week the Transpanish blog will highlight three forums for translators that offer both help with translations as well as camaraderie and discussions about larger translation issues.

ProZ.com’s KudoZ Forum and General Forum

ProZ is an authoritative forum and job search board for translators working in hundreds of different language pairs.  On their KudoZ forum, registered users are able to ask questions about tough translation terms and receive answers from other ProZ users.  The person who asks the question is then able to rate the answers based on how helpful they were.

At the entry page to the KudoZ forum, a user is able to refine the questions posted by language pair, and Spanish-English appears as a “major pair” on the right-hand side of the screen.  The site breaks down the questions into two categories: non-Pro (meaning any bilingual person could answer) and Pro (a question requiring specialized translation knowledge).  For Pro questions, you must log on to post.

ProZ also has an extensive community forum where users can discuss the finer points of linguistics, issues with translation memory software, and the ins and outs of being a freelance translator, along with many more topics.

To resister on ProZ.com, start here.  Members can use many site features, but to have full access to everything they offer, you must upgrade to a paid membership.

Word Reference’s Dictionary and Forums

In addition to an excellent online dictionary, Word Reference also has a forum for questions about Spanish-English translation terms.  In fact, when you search Word Reference for a word or phrase, the search engine also pulls up anything similar that’s been discussed on the forum.

The site is easy to navigate and you don’t need to register to browse the forums.  You will need to register to post.  The Spanish-English forums are at the top of the community page, and the sub-forums include General Vocabulary, Grammar, Specialized Terminology (further broken down into subcategories), and Resources.

The interface between the online dictionary and the translation forums is extremely helpful.  Many knowledgeable bilingual Spanish-English speakers post, though the forums are less geared towards professional translators than ProZ’s.

Translator’s Café Terminology and Discussion Forums

The Translator’s Café site is also geared specifically toward freelance translators, and has many of the same features that ProZ boasts.  You can post questions about difficult terminology at their TCTerms portal. You may search for language pair and further refine your results by specialization.

The Café has an extensive menu of sub-forums for freelance translators to discuss many topics related to the freelancer’s life and career.

To start using many of the free features, click here to register. As a Master Member who can access all features, you will have to pay to upgrade.

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.

Latinos “Moved the Needle” in 2008’s Historic Election

As we mentioned in an earlier Transpanish Blog post, several groups pushed for Latino permanent residents to apply for citizenship in time for this year’s election.  In fact, one in five new voters is Hispanic.  Both Obama and McCain spent millions reaching out to Hispanic voters, especially in the swing states.  These campaigns, along with non-partisan groups which encouraged Latinos to participate in civic life, made the votes of Hispanic citizens critical to the presidential race.

So what does this mean for Obama’s success?  One well-known blogger says that Latinos voted against the Republicans and not for Obama.  Tejeda’s blog offers some fascinating commentary about Latinos and politics, and is worth a read.  In an Oppenheimer Report released before the election, the point is made that Obama’s almost flawless Spanish pronunciation and use of the familiar tu, may be disingenuous and make Latinos think that he’s more on their side than he actually is.

In Colorado and Florida, both key states, Latinos voted more than ever before.  In Colorado, the number of Latinos who voted more than doubled from the 2004 election.  A Colorado Independent article cites Pew Hispanic Center data showing that Latinos in Colorado made up 17 percent of total voters, up nine points from the 2004 election.

In Florida, Obama was the first Democrat to win the vote of the majority of Latino voters.  While nationwide, Obama won by a larger margin, no other democrat has ever taken Florida since they begin doing exit polls in the 1980s.  Older Cubans typically vote Republic, but Florida is experiencing a demographic and generational shift, as non-Cuban Hispanics and younger people of Cuban descent lean towards the blue.  The Miami-Herald reports on what this may mean for Florida’s political landscape.

The Pew Hispanic Center, as always, provides detailed demographic info about Latinos in the U.S. and their report on the exit polls is no exception.

Of course, Obama hasn’t yet articulated a plan for immigration reform and Latinos themselves certainly don’t have a uniform stance on immigration.  But whatever opinion Latinos have of immigration in the U.S., the NALEO Educational Fund is an incredible resource for Latinos who want to participate more deeply in civic life.

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.

Translations for U.S. Immigration Done Right

Whether you are an individual applying for a family-based visa or an employee bringing over foreign-born workers, you will need some official documents translated into English for the immigration petition.  The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) requires that you provide a “certified translation” of important Spanish documents.  This Transpanish post talks more about what exactly a certified translation is.

The paperwork you need to fill out when petitioning for a visa for a loved one or worker can be overwhelming and seemingly endless.  But having a translation agency translate your documents from Spanish to English can take some of the pressure off.

Here is a list of some documents USCIS may ask for that you will need to have translated:

  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate
  • Divorce decree
  • Police records
  • Diplomas
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Change of name documents

You will need to include a copy of the Spanish language original, the English translation, and a separate page certifying that the translation was done by someone proficient in both Spanish and English.  While you may speak some Spanish, if it’s not your native language, having a professional translation agency take care of translating these critical documents will ease your mind.  A good translation agency will be able to provide an English translation of your Spanish documents that uses accurate terminology.  And spending a little extra money for your translations will save you the stress of fiddling with document formatting.

Putting together a packet for an immigrant petition is a headache in and of itself.  By contracting out your Spanish to English translations, you can concentrate on making sure that the rest of your paperwork is perfect and accurate. Professional translators will ensure that your Spanish to English immigration translations are accurate.  They take pride in knowing that their translations will be a perfect addition to your immigration petition. Let your translation agency help you make sure that your loved one or potential employee has the best chance possible for being granted a visa.

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.

British English vs. American English

British and American English are the two major forms of English in the world, and the Canadian and Australian dialects follow behind in number of native speakers.  While native English speakers generally have no problem understanding the English of those from other English-speaking countries, there are some difference between the written and oral forms of American and British English, the most easily recognizable being the following: vocabulary, spelling, and pronunciation.  There are also some grammatical differences which might not be as readily apparent if one is not paying close attention.

Below is a brief description of the major ways in which British and American English differ:

Vocabulary

There are entire dictionaries devoted to the differences in vocabulary between British and American English, and many dictionaries list whether a term is used in Britain or America.  A few examples are:

American English   |   British English

Apartment                        flat

Elevator                            lift

Trunk                               boot

Vacation                           holiday

Click here for a fun tool to show you some of the vocabulary differences.

Spelling

The spelling differences fall into a couple of major categories: miscellaneous spelling differences for some words, differences in spellings of words derived from Latin and Greek, and words with difference spellings and different connotations.

The spelling differences that many are most familiar with are those that come from the differences in words derived from Latin or Greek, such as color in American English and colour in British and realize in American and realise in British.

For a comprehensive breakdown of the various spelling differences, peruse Wikipedia’s entry.

Pronunciation

The most notable difference between British and American English is that of pronunciation. These fall into two major categories: accent and pronunciation of individual words.  The pronunciation differences can further be broken down into regional differences in America and differences among the countries of Great Britain.

For a list of links to follow to check out the differences between British and American pronunciation, click here.

Implications for Translators

If you translate into Spanish from English, it shouldn’t be difficult for you to work from a document in either American or British English regardless of your country of origin.  However, some clients request that a document be translated from Spanish into either British or American English.  Because of the very subtle grammatical differences, it wouldn’t be wise to translate into an English dialect that you are not intimately familiar with.

If you are a client who needs to have your document translated into a specific dialect of English, make sure that your translator is a native of the country which you will target with your translation.  If this isn’t possible, then make sure that the translator you entrust with your document is either currently living in the country (i.e. an American translator residing in England) or has lived in the country for a substantial amount of time (i.e. a Brit who went to college and worked in the U.S. for several years).