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.



























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.

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).

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.


Translation Studies Degrees: Giving Yourself an Advantage

While the United States has no minimum educational requirements to be a translator, many freelance translators have undergraduate degrees in a foreign language (their source language) combined with extensive coursework in a particular discipline.  Those who want to further their understanding of translation theory and practices may decide to continue their education with either a Certificate in Translation Studies or a Master’s in Translation Studies.  Below is a sampling of undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs in Translation Studies.

Institute for Applied Linguistics (IAL) at Kent State University

As noted on the school’s website, the IAL is the country’s only comprehensive B.S. to Ph.D. program and offers a Bachelor’s of Science in Translation, a Master’s in Translation, and a Ph.D. in Translation Studies.  The IAL provides training and coursework in five language pairs, including Spanish.  For more information about the IAL at Kent State, click here.

Marygrove College

Marygrove College, located in Detroit, offers a Certificate Program in Modern Language Translation.  The year-long (attending full time) certificate program is designed to train professionals to work as translators and train them for the American Translators Association certification.  Click here for contact information, admissions requirements, and program requirements. 

Making Safety a Priority for All Employees: How Translations Can Help

Some sobering statistics about workplace safety for Latinos in the U.S.:

• In 2006, there were nearly 1,000 Latino workplace related deaths in the U.S. (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

• Latino workers’ fatality rate was 21 percent higher than all workers in 2006 (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

• More than one out of three Latinos killed on the job worked in a construction related field.

The causes behind these stats are complex, but if your company has many limited-English speaking workers, the first step in ensuring the safety and productivity of your workers is to provide safety information in your workers’ native language. This is especially true in the construction, transportation, and manufacturing sectors where it’s common to find English-speaking supervisors and Spanish-speaking workers. While the latter group may speak enough English to get by, their English reading skills may not be strong enough to understand complicated safety procedures with technical vocabulary.

The Office of Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that companies with safety training provide the information in the language that your workers understand. Getting this required information translated into Spanish is a good opportunity to form an ongoing relationship with a translation agency that will be able to provide translations that are culturally and educationally appropriate.

If your English safety materials are clear, concise, and accompanied by graphics, your chosen translation agency will be able to create Spanish safety materials for your Hispanic workers that are just as effective as the originals.

Points to keep in mind when preparing safety documents for translation and choosing a translation agency:

• Over 40 percent of Latinos living in the U.S. do not have a high school diploma (2005 American Community Survey) so make sure that the original safety material is at an appropriate grade level so that the agency can faithfully translate both the meaning and style.

• Spanish is an extremely diverse language, and what Puerto Rican workers understand may be lost on Central American workers, so make sure that you are aware of the country of origin of your employees so as to provide the most widely-understood translation.

• Also keep in mind when choosing your translation agency that Spanish has many varieties and nuances and make sure that the agency you choose employs translators who are knowledgeable about the regional variations and language subtleties.

• A good option is to translate into Neutral Spanish which will be accepted and understood by the entire Spanish-Speaking population.

There are many cultural and political factors beyond the scope of this article that make workplace safety such a critical issue for those who employ Latinos, but working with a qualified translation agency to provide materials in Spanish is the first step in ensuring that your employees follow safety guidelines.

Related Article
Hispanic Employees in the Workplace

Starting Out as a Freelance Translator – Second Part

Read the first part of this article

Honing Your Skills Through Education

Even the most seasoned translators benefit from continuing their educations, and you should consider studying at the university level either towards your Master’s or even a certificate program for translators.

New York University-SPCE offers a certificate in various language pairs entirely online (you may also attend courses onsite).

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst offers a Master’s in Translation Studies, but does not offer an online option.

In the Getting Established section of ProZ’s forums, you can find ongoing rousing discussions about whether a translator needs an advanced degree or if language skills and specialized knowledge suffice. If you don’t live near a university with a translation studies program or NYU doesn’t offer your language pair, the ProZ forum provides sound suggestions for self-study.

Building Your Network

Often freelance translators acquire work through a combination of using translation agencies and finding jobs on their own. Translation agencies provide a level of convenience and quality control for clients that an independent freelancer cannot, especially once starting out. Translation agencies will ask you for a test translation before placing you on their roster and contacting you for jobs. While contacting agencies is a worthwhile pursuit, working with one will not guarantee steady work until you’ve established yourself as a translator able to produce quality documents.

Although the United States has no universal certification requirement for translators, the largest translation association is the American Translators Association. By joining the ATA, you can increase your networking opportunities through conferences and professional development seminars, work towards a certification in one of 27 language pairs, and join local groups to assist you with marketing and support services.

Concluding Points

To successfully break into the freelance translation world, you will need to utilize various strategies at once. No one particular strategy will be able to guarantee the start of a thriving freelance career. Rather, you can work towards becoming a translator by attempting all of the strategies included here: working pro bono to gain clips, experience, and references; developing your skills either through formal education or self-study; applying to both local and remote translation agencies; and joining professional organizations.

Starting Out as a Freelance Translator – First Part

First Considerations

Many bilingual or multilingual people have considered embarking on a career as a freelance translator. But simply speaking and reading in two or more languages does not mean that you will be able to successfully work as a translator. Freelance translators have near native competency in their source language and native competency in the target language. The field of translation requires that you not only be able to understand and write two languages, but also that you be able to effectively translate the nuances and subtleties of the source language into a target language document of equal tone, meaning, and quality.

Most freelance translators also have from one to several areas of specialized knowledge and translate documents in those areas, often gained as an undergraduate. While translators make work outside their specialized subject areas, most become experts in just one or a couple of fields.

If you have strong language skills and are adept at manipulating text from one language to another, you may be ready to explore the translation field. Below you’ll find practical tips to guide you as you start to work towards becoming a freelance translator.

Gaining Experience

In today’s multicultural world, the competition is strong for translation jobs. It can be difficult to break into the freelance translation world, especially when you have little formal translation experience and you are up against translators who have been in the business for years.

How can you get the experience necessary to start applying for freelance translation jobs? One of the best ways to start freelancing is to donate your time to a nonprofit agency whose work you admire and whose cause you champion. You may already have volunteered for an organization such as this in another capacity or perhaps you have simply donated money to a cause.

Below are a couple of links where you can look for nonprofit translating opportunities:

Translations for Progress

UNV Volunteering

Volunteer Match

Also, look to your community for places that you are already involved with and may benefit from your translation services. If your church has a large bilingual population you could offer to translate its newsletter. Your children’s school may need help translating flyers or letters to parents into your native language. Perhaps a community or neighborhood organization you work with wants to do outreach in other languages, and you could provide no-cost translations for them.

Volunteering your time as a translator will benefit both you and the organization by:

• Giving you clips to provide to future prospective employers
• Providing you with demonstrable translation experience

Read the second part of this article.