Latino Language

Latino Language & Translations Matter

Latino Language & Translations Matter


“Take a walk on the wild side”  What does that phrase evoke in your mind?  For some, it raises thoughts of adventure and action; for others it promotes experimentation.  Actually, the phrase was used as a campaign to get elderly folks more active to maintain their physical and mental health.  Meaning, walk, hike, run, do something outdoors.  

When the campaign was used to engage the Latino market, the phrase was translated into “Hagase Salvaje” which literally means “BE A SAVAGE.” 

Now, I don’t know about you, but I sure as heck don’t want my Mom or aunts running around being savage and then busting a hip! 

This silly error is not uncommon.  We also had a natural gas translation that literally said “DID YOU FART?” 

I bet you are actually LOL’ing!    But it wouldn’t be funny if you were the CEO or the CMO of this firm.  These mistakes happen for 3 reasons,  

  1. Cutting Corners– using machine translations like Google Translate, are OK in a pinch, but you still need a native speaker to double check the final results  
  2. Didn’t Know– decision makers simply don’t know (or don’t consider) that there are multiple ways of saying something in a foreign language, from idioms, to slang, localization and so much more.  They may not even know there’s a huge market opportunity available for them to sell their product/service if they would simple offer said product/service in another language. 
  3. Mis-Assessed Proficiency– because the decision-makers are not fluent in the foreign language there’s no true way to assess whether their translators are actually proficient.  Whether the quality of the final product is acceptable (ideally, you want an “exceptional” product, not just acceptable!)    

The last one is one of my favorite objections to overcome, “No, Veronica, we don’t need your translation services, we have Maria, our receptionist.  She is fluent in Spanish.”   Oh, I see.  But you speak English fluently, no? Then why do you have a marketing team? Can’t you write your own words? Can’t you proof, edit, and revise your own marketing materials? 

As the population grows, so are the opportunities. Per the 2010 Census, there are more than 50 Million Hispanics living in the US, and 38 Million are bilingual! Organizations that seek to capitalize this un-tapped market, are learning that Latinos are eager for engagement in their native language.  A Spanish message, or even a Spanglish message, stands out from the sea of content that is barraging consumers today.  But the message has to work. 

It has to be compelling. Culturally appropriate. And for the love of G-d, it has to be grammatically correct!  Latinos are savvy consumers, we know we are coveted and a botched attempt at engaging us can have dire consequences.  From offending, to alienating and even worse, could lead to legal action. 

Here are some examples:  

Starbucks, “Exit Only” became “Success Thru Here” 

This mistranslation of a Delaware sign saying in English that children need parental supervision, but that in Spanish said children need a permit or they will be “susceptible to police action.” 

Machine translation, like Google Translate although improving exponentially and super affordable (I mean, you can’t be FREE!) may not be accurate.  While typos, grammatical errors and misuse of vocabulary can be embarrassing, in some scenarios, translations can be cause safety risks (think of a safety manual!) or provide wrong information that can lead to injury or death! For instance, if a manual for medial equipment is translated incorrectly, there could  

These platforms don’t get Context, like the “walk on the wild side”- it didn’t know it was about activities for the aging population.  And glitches can occur too—these platforms are influenced by millions of online variables.  For instance, back in 2015, Google had to fix a bug in their software that kept translating “Russian Federation” as “Mordor” from Lord of the Rings and “Russians” as “occupiers.” 

Here’s how to avoid embarrassment, lawsuits, accidents AND avoid employee burnout! 

  1. Use Native Speakers, at the very least as editors or final proof-readers of the document 
  2. Use Professionals with documented experience in translations and expertise in the native language 
  3. Use the appropriate Skill Set- just because I speak Spanish, doesn’t mean I have any understanding of neurosurgery, employee law or sexual harassment material. 

Our world is changing.  Our costumer base is changing. Our employee base is changing. 

This is a very basic reason to engage these folks appropriately- in a safe, cost-effective and professional manner.  Please allocate and invest resources in professional language services.   

Amigos- remember, you don’t want to be a savage! 


This article first appeared in the DAILY RECORD 



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