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Hispanic Translation Fail
April 29, 2010 - By: - In: Multilingual Web, Translation - Comments Off on Hispanic Translation Fail

“Read it and Weep, Translators” should be the subtitle for the most recent “Hispanic Cyberstudy,” but AOL settled for “Marketing to the web’s most rapidly growing population” instead.

“For years marketers have struggled with the complexities of the Hispanic market,” and translators have been busily following their lead to service this market. This is big business, too, with a US Census forecast of 50 million Hispanics in the US this year, nearly one in six US residents.”

The survey defined three translation-relevant market segments based on language fluency. Twenty-three percent of this audience is labeled ‘Hispanic Dominant:’ These people speak Spanish at home, watch and read in Spanish, are foreign-born, have a mean age of 40, and have lived in the US for seven years or so.

Biculturals account for 31% of the group: they’re bilingual at home, consume in English, have a mean age of 34, and an average residence Stateside of 22 years.

The largest group, accounting for almost half of US-resident Hispanics, is labeled ‘US Dominant.’ These guys speak English, consume in English, are US-born, and have a mean age of 36.

US Hispanics are big on the Web, regardless of their degree of acculturation, and value the Web and view it as “a place of discovery and connections.” That’s the English Web, overwhelmingly. Only the ‘Hispanic Dominant’ group prefers to surf in Spanish.

And all of these segments hate our translations. “In general Hispanics recognize the disparity between the availability of English and Spanish language content. They perceive English sites as more comprehensive, detailed and useful than Spanish language counterparts. This is reflected in the way they surf. Even ‘Hispanic Dominants’ prefer English to Spanish online. They are looking for the best online experience regardless of language.”

They distrust our useless translations. Only 3% find Spanish language sites more trustworthy or useful. This due to the linear, partial translations generally provided.   Good opportunity to work in Nabokov’s lament on our trade:

Reflected words can only shiver
Like elongated lights that twist
In the black mirror of a river
Between the city and the mist.

Linear translations go home. These guys prefer their Spanish content to be adapted, transcreated so that it sounds good in Spanish. Doh!  Interestingly, survey results also suggest that English copy written to be relevant for Hispanic audiences works much better than the vanilla version. Personally, I wonder if that’s a survey artifact, since the survey is about being Hispanic. Most of the English ads I see oriented towards that audience seem corny to me…but, hey, I’m not Hispanic.

I suspect this Spanish translation problem is only the tip of the iceberg, too. It’s not just US Hispanics, but every surfer around the globe who has to settle for the ‘sloppy seconds’ translation efforts on the Web. Most of the translation that’s up there is strictly TEP: translation, edit and proof. It’s supposed to be linear―complete and accurate, baby, says right so on the certification. That’s what our clients are paying for, nice and easy, just sign the check and post.

Once you cross the language barrier to adaptation or transcreation, that’s when the cash register really starts to ring. Copy testing and creative statements and back translations and harmonization meetings. And it’s not just the cost either, but the headache of pulling together a team LSP, agency and client to collaborate across time zones and cultures. Aren’t we supposed to know how to do that out of the gate? If only. Personally, we can’t do enough of it.  I love the process. Not so much for the money, but because it allows us to do a good job and produce a great outcome.

Adapting the Web, instead of just translating, really raises the ante, but I think it was John Wanamaker who said that advertising was like seven-card hold-em. Is it all in to win the ROI jackpot on the Web?

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