Most people can agree that it is important to communicate with Spanish-speaking audiences – residents, shoppers, customers, patients, voters, and so on. The demographics of California and the United States make that abundantly clear, but how do you do it? How do you effectively communicate with Spanish-speaking audiences?
Too often, this is entrusted to employees of organizations who have a Spanish surname, assuming that since they routinely speak Spanish with friends and family, that they must also know how to write and professionally communicate in Spanish. They were not hired by their organization to communicate in Spanish and often their formal credentials are just like most everyone else’s – a couple of years of Spanish in high school, maybe a couple of years in college. Organizations often put their employees in the uncomfortable position of being Latino and speaking Spanish but having to admit or hide that they may not have the formal grammatical, writing, and rhetorical training to translate or communicate in Spanish. Those organizations are sometimes asking their accountant to fix their plumbing, and the results can be embarrassing – jumbled translations in Spanglish that do the very opposite of demonstrating respect for the language and the very population that an organization is attempting to reach. It is the same case with English: the number of people who speak English far outnumber the number of professionals who are educated, trained, and skilled in grammar and the art of communications in English.
Professional Spanish-language communications begin with proper respect for the Spanish language and the audiences that choose to receive their news and information in Spanish, even if they might speak and understand English. It begins with excellent grammar that respects the language of its audience, the kind that takes more than a few years in high school and a minor in college to develop. Professional Spanish-language communications requires finding ways of cleverly communicating key concepts that if translated literally are literally lost in translation. Online translation software is of little help here and is not to be trusted. Professional Spanish-language communicators advise a client on the nuances of culture and language, not just to avoid an embarrassing faux pas (that might pass muster with online translation software), but instead to support an impactful connection that communicates a client’s message with target audiences. Communicating professionally in Spanish includes advising a client on the appropriate media to deliver the message – television, radio, print, social media, and/or community events and publications. Should your message air during the midday or the evening telenovela? Should your earned media be on morning radio or in the newsweekly paper? And finally, professional Spanish-language communications means being ready to represent a client on-air and in interviews with carefully crafted messages that hit the mark with the audience.
It is good that more and more organizations are choosing to include Spanish-speaking audiences in their communications. But with this particular audience, just as with any other, you only get one chance to make a first impresión. It is imperative that it is done well, professionally, and in a way that adds value to an organization’s overall communications.
By Susana Villegas, Hispanic Outreach Specialist