Hint to anyone trying to court Spanish-speaking customers, businesses or voters: if you address us in Spanish, make sure you do it correctly. It can be quaint when a non-Spanish speaker memorizes a short message in Spanish, and we’ll be forgiving, thought it’s overdone and a bit boring. But if you are going to produce Spanish-language materials, get a professional Spanish-language copywriter and proofreader/editor. Or at least, hire someone who has had formal education in the language. Spanish is a beautiful language with rather strict grammatical and spelling rules, you can’t just wing proper writing. When your Spanish-language materials are poorly translated and full of spelling and grammatical errors, the message you convey is that you are going through the motions but you don’t really care about Spanish speakers. Our language, just like us, deserves respect.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This is America. English is the dominant language. I don’t expect that everything will be translated. But if it’s going to be, it should be done well.
This has come up twice recently on my Facebook page.
A couple of weeks ago, Mayor Stephen Cassidy touted a new city-issued Spanish language flier advertising no business license fees for new businesses. It was full of grammatical and spelling errors that have not yet been corrected. The Spanish language flier describing the program sounds like it was translated by software, and not only is ungrammatical, but makes little sense.
Today, Congressional candidate Ro Khanna announced a Spanish language version of his website that suffers from the same problems. He assured me that a “professional” had done the translation, but there are so many grammatical and spelling mistakes that it’s hard to believe a human looked at it at all.
Personally, I don’t think either the City of San Leandro or Khanna’s campaign should be excused. The Bay Area does not lack competent Spanish translators and copywriters. With a plethora of universities around us, it cannot be hard to find trained writers and translators. Sure, they may be a little bit more expensive than Google Translate, but using them will assure an end product that actually communicates a message. If that message is worth communicating, then it’s worth hiring someone who can do it.
As it stands, the Spanish translations offered by Cassidy and Khanna look to me like little more than gimmicks meant to say to the community as a whole “look, we care about Latinos”, while telling Spanish-speaking Latinos “don’t mind that, we don’t actually mean it”.