Wednesday, October 21

Interpreting for Latinos in the United States

Latinos are the fastest-growing minority group in the U.S., in fact, in 2008 California alone was home to 13.5 million Latinos. By 2050, the U.S. Latino population is expected to make up 29% of the U.S. population. Despite the fact that Latinos represent a sizable percentage of the population, many individuals continue to have the false notion that we are a homogeneous group. Although I am Mexican-American and have lived in Mexico and Spain, I continuously encounter new knowledge affirming the rich diversity of the Latino population that I serve. As healthcare interpreters, we should not limit ourselves to a solely linguistic understanding of the population we are serving. Language is a reflection of culture, and hence without an in-depth understanding of the culture, it would be impossible to interpret accurately.

Latinos share a geographic and linguistic heritage, however by simply analyzing the ten largest U.S. Latino population groups (Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, Guatemalans, Colombians, Hondurans, Ecuadoreans and Peruvians) we can see that Latinos vary in reference to country of origin, citizenship, and degree of acculturation due to differences in immigration history and cultural background. Latinos also vary in educational attainment, income, and political ideologies. Sociolinguistics has shown us that these previously mentioned social variables influence our usage of language, for this reason interpreters should be sensitive to these differences and not make generalizations about Latino's educational attainment or language fluency.

Another common misconception is that Latinos are of the same "race." Contrary to what many think, Latino is not a race, neither is it a particular ethnic group. So then, who are we? What do we look like? We are white, black, Asian, indigenous, and mestizo. In general, Latinos represent a mix of racial and ethnic lines from 22 different countries of origin who share a geographic, historic, and linguistic tie to Latin America and Spain. Latinos are multireligious, multiethnic, and multiracial. As such we are Catholic, Christian, Mormon, Muslim, and Jewish and we speak a variety of Spanish dialects, Portuguese, and indigenous languages. I have witnessed many healthcare providers assume that patients are limited-English proficient or Catholic simply because of their Hispanic surname or because they "look" Latino. When serving Latinos in the healthcare setting, it is best to clarify whether they in fact need an interpreter and ask if they have a religious preference, instead of assuming and possibly causing offense. Religious diversity is especially important because for some Latinos, spiritual beliefs and medicine are often intertwined with the usage of healers and other folk medicine.

Considering such a rich diversity, it is easy to understand why the umbrella classifications Hispanic and Latino established by the Office of Management and Budget continue to be a source of contention. While both Latino and Hispanic are generally acceptable, some people have a strong preference, others don't like either term and instead prefer their country of origin or the political term Chicano. Furthermore many second and third generation Latinos regard themselves as simply “American”. A 2006 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center found that 48% of Latino adults generally describe themselves by their country of origin first; 26% generally use the terms Latino or Hispanic first; and 24% generally call themselves American on first reference. As for a preference between “Hispanic” and “Latino”, a 2008 Center survey found that 36% of respondents prefer the term “Hispanic,” 21% prefer the term “Latino” and the rest have no preference. Although there is a lack of consensus, we should respect those preferences as much as possible in referring to individuals and groups.

Regardless if you are Latino or not, if you are serving the Spanish-speaking population as a healthcare provider or interpreter, the best way to meet the medical or linguistic needs of Latinos is by understanding the culture first. On October 21st and 22nd, CNN will be airing a special report titled Latino In America, which will provide much insight and controversy about what it means to be Latino in America. If you would like to continue this conversation, feel free to post a comment.

Sunday, July 19

Crowd-sourcing: Is it cheap labor or a glimpse of what's to come?

Businesses are always looking for ways to cut costs, one of the latest methods is crowd-sourcing. This phenomenon is rising in popularity, but what does it mean? In a nutshell, businesses are soliciting everyday people to use their spare time to create content and solve problems for free. Some of these businesses include social networking websites that were developed in the Internet age of collaborative user-centered technologies. Now we find well-intended amateurs and hobbyists doing the work of professionals.

Crowd-sourcing has affected all industries, including translation and localization. Social networking sites like Hi5 and Facebook allow their active user community to contribute translations of metadata and their user interface.

Recently I attended a workshop where Ghassan Haddad, Director of Localization of Facebook, presented on the success of their crowd-sourcing approach. One of the appeals of crowd-sourcing is the speed of translation. He stated that nearly 100% of the French Facebook content was translated overnight. The Spanish and German sites were translated in one week.

He further elaborated that while many translations are questionable, volunteers are able to vote on their preferred verbiage, and since this is a site for the people, why not tailor it according to their needs? For quality assurance, Facebook employs language experts who review the translations offered by the volunteer translators. Haddad stated that the cost savings vary because investment in technology offsets some of the savings attained by getting "free" translations. Their main cost advantages are achieved through unsupported languages, process automation, and the ability to prioritize text.

Currently LinkedIn, the online professional networking site, finds itself in the hot-seat because Nico Posner, product manager, surveyed its users to see whether they would consider translating the site for free. Many translators frowned upon this request because this is a for-profit site requesting professional services for free. Some translators found it demeaning and consider it exploitation, nonetheless there were translators who were more than willing to participate.

As a professional translator and interpreter, I do not believe businesses should implement crowd-sourcing to replace the work of professionals. However I am interested in understanding how this phenomenon has and will continue to impact our profession. Crowd-sourcing is not the apocalypse of the translation profession. Like all things in life, change is inevitable and the Internet has changed many professions. Take librarianship for example, the field continues to thrive despite having Google at our disposal. Google and the Internet provide access to information like libraries, however unlike librarians, Google does not know how to distinguish reputable and credible resources from non-authoritative work, nor can Google collaborate with you in your research quest.

Can crowd-sourcing help businesses and translators? Yes, after a professional translator has completed their target translation, crowd-sourcing should be used as an additional tool to ensure that products and websites are tailored to meet the needs of their market. It should not be the first thing that businesses turn to. CAT tools, automatic translation, and crowd-sourcing will change the way we do some business, but none can replace the professional translator's cognitive ability to analyze the syntax, orthography, register, synonyms, colloquialisms, and idioms of multiple languages and culture.

Sunday, May 31

Social Networking And Professional Development for Translators/Interpreters

President Obama is doing it. The White House is too. Why not you? Social networking is a cultural phenomenon stretching across the globe. Tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are enabling forms of communication, collaboration, and learning never seen before. One way to use social networks is for your own professional development. They can be a great way to connect with colleagues or to find new people who share your interests.

Using these tools, you can keep in touch with colleagues and establish more professional contacts. Networking can also help you build your online reputation and find a new job or establish business contacts. Also, the internet brings individuals from all around the world together on social networking sites. This means that although you are in the United States, you could establish an online contact with someone in Spain or Russia. Some of the tools that the California Healthcare Intepreting Association (CHIA) is currently using include:

LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking site with members from around the world, representing 170 industries and 200 countries. You can find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals that you need to work with to accomplish your goals. Job seekers can review the profile of hiring managers and discover new employment opportunities. CHIA has created a group on LinkedIn as a way of promoting the professional development of our membership. Click here to create a profile and request to join CHIA on LinkedIn.

Facebook has taken hold as undisputable leader amongst social networking sites. CHIA now offers a Facebook group for our members to keep up-to-date with CHIA events and interpreting related news. This is an opportunity to combine your personal and professional interests on one site. Click Here to find CHIA on Facebook!

CHIA is now on YouTube, the leader in online video sharing. CHIA has been accepted into YouTube's non-profit program and has developed a YouTube Channel named InterpretersTube. You can either register or search our videos for free. We offer clips of our annual educational conferences and regional educational seminars. Click here to check out CHIA's InterpretersTube.

Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users' updates known as tweets. So get the latest interpreting news by following CHIA on Twitter. Simply join twitter and look up our Twitter profile named CHIAInterpreter and start tweeting. Click here to find CHIA on Twitter

Social networking can offer many benefits, however the Internet can be a dangerous place to post personal information. All of the previously mentioned social networks provide the ability to set profiles to private. Additionally they have the ability to report and block users. So join CHIA and the rest of your colleagues and let’s stay up-to-date on the latest technological innovations.

Check out the latest issue of CHIA Insider!

Sunday, March 29

Take on the Idiom Challenge

Sometimes it is difficult to find the right words to express our thoughts, so we use a set phrase or word that conveys an idea that is unique to native speakers of a particular language and culture. According to Wikipedia, “an idiom is a phrase whose meaning cannot be determined by the literal definition of the phrase itself, but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is known only through common use.”1 Idioms often use an image or symbol to describe something as clearly as possible, so that we can make our point as effectively as possible. For example, “in a nutshell” suggests the idea of conveying a lot of information within very few words. (A Spanish equivalent would be en pocas palabras.) Idioms tend to be informal and are best used in spoken language, rather than written.

Idioms pose a particular challenge for translators/interpreters working into their B-languages. For example, if a translator is unfamiliar with the expression “to kick the bucket,” he or she might incorrectly offer a literal target-language rendition. In the English expression “to kick the bucket,” a non-native speaker who is familiar only with the meaning of kick and bucket would be unable to determine the expression’s actual meaning (“to die”). Although the expression can refer literally to the act of striking a bucket with a foot, native speakers rarely use it that way because of its culturally accepted figurative meaning. Ideally, an interpreter/translator should find an idiomatic expression in the target language that equivalently conveys the same message as the source idiomatic expression. For example, if translating this phrase for a primarily Mexican readership, two possible Spanish equivalents of “to kick the bucket” include petatear or estirar la pata.

Using idioms effectively generally requires the translator/interpreter to have some localized foundational knowledge or experience regarding the culture where they are used. Idioms are not so much part of a language as they are a part of a culture. Since idioms are typically used as colloquial metaphors within a particular culture, they are often difficult to decipher outside of that local context. Some idioms can be more universal than others, however, and can be easily translated so that the metaphorical meaning can be more easily determined.

It is especially important to be aware of the context in which a phrase is used. According to Holly Mikkelson, a seemingly simple idiom like “make out” could mean: to decipher (as in “I can’t make out his handwriting”); to pretend (“She is making herself out to be much more important than she really is”); to fare (“How did you make out?”); to prepare (“I am making out my will”); or to fondle (“They were making out in the back seat”). The same English phrase can be interpreted in multiple ways based on the context in which it is used. Context sets the stage for the words we use and we must pay particular attention to it if we intend on finding an idiom that is of true semantic equivalence.

Idioms can be very difficult to translate, yet they are a vital and dynamic part of language and culture. Interpreters/translators should never omit an idiomatic expression when it is used in the source language. Instead, they should be prepared to conduct linguistic and cultural research until they find an appropriate equivalent in the target language. The best way to learn idioms is to select and actively incorporate them into your speech. Select idioms that are useful to you. Write them in a relevant and practical sentence so that you will be able to remember their meaning easily. Every time you encounter a new idiom, enter it in a file, along with other words and idioms that have similar meanings, and have it handy on your computer for easy reference.

For a searchable compilation of idioms, visit The Free Dictionary by Farlex (

1. Wikipedia (

2. Mikkelson, Holly: The Art of Working with Interpreters: A Manual for Healthcare Professionals (

Related Links and References

Dictionary of British Slang

Idiom Connection

Lexscripta Dictionaries of Slang

Weibel, Peter. The Big Red Book of Spanish Idioms (McGraw-Hill, 2004)

Sunday, January 4

The World of Literary Translation: An Interview with María Teresa Gallego Urrutia

If you think technical translation is difficult, try literary translation! The translation of fictional literature is by far one of the most difficult forms of translation that goes beyond learning technical vocabulary and the contrastive analysis of two languages. Unlike technical translators, most literary translators have an educational background in comparative literature and creative writing. Currently, the Instituto Cervantes is offering a brilliant interview online with María Teresa Gallego Urrutia, an award-winning Spanish-French literary translator. María Teresa Gallego Urrutia has been awarded the 2008 Premio Nacional a la Obra de un Traductor (National Translation Award) by the Ministerio de Cultura (Spanish Ministry of Culture). She has a degree in French from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and has worked as a translator since 1960. She teaches at various universities and is currently the head of the French department at the Instituto Gregorio Marañón de Madrid. In this interview, María Teresa Gallego Urrutia offers us wonderful insight to the world of literary translation and contrasts it with technical translation. She also discusses the inherent creativity that is required to translate literary text and the translation of literary masterpieces that have already been translated.

Click Here To See Interview

About the Instituto Cervantes
Instituto Cervantes is a worldwide non-profit organization created by the Spanish government in 1991. It is the largest organization in the world concerned with the teaching of Spanish, and it maintains a presence in over twenty different countries throughout 54 centers devoted to the Spanish and Hispanic American culture and Spanish Language. The mission of Instituto Cervantes is to promote the teaching, study, and use of Spanish as a second language and to contribute to the advancement of the Spanish and Hispanic American cultures throughout non-Spanish speaking countries.