(English) 56 Million Hispanics: Lost in Translation

By Patricia Guadalupe

Hispanic Link News Service


I was a bit bored the other day, so before sliding that Orville Redenbacher bag of popcorn into the microwave, I started to read the instructions and for the hell of it looked at the Spanish translation, and almost fell off my chair. “Stop” was translated to “parada,” which actually means “bus stop” and “pull to center” was translated to “la tirón para centrar,” which basically is gobbledygook. On that  package was all kinds of nonsense masquerading as Spanish.

Imagine the millions that company spent for basically a bunch of monkeys tapping away at a laptop and running it thru Google Translate. Whoever the company hired is probably laughing all the way to the bank.

That popcorn company isn’t the only one trying to reach the important and ever-growing Latino consumer community with a flim-flam attempt at Spanish. It wasn’t too long ago that you could walk into any office of Fedex and see “no se acepta dinero” as the translation for “we don’t take cash.” Only that translation meant they don’t take money.

So it was free, I once asked a confused clerk. The correct version would have been “no se acepta dinero en efectivo.” More millions down the drain and another group of flim flam artists guffawing on their way to the bank.

Lip service to the Spanish-speaking world in the United States is nothing new, but you would think that after all these years of a growing Latino population, after all these studies talking about how the Latino community is so important – vital even – for the continued progress of this nation, how Latinos truly are the future, you would think that after all that, a real serious effort would be made to do things correctly. If not for anything else, then out of respect.

But no. Just take a look at the Spanish version of the Obama administration’s healthcare.gov: cuidadodesalud.gov

Once again millions were spent developing that site and millions more on marketing, but the monkeys were back at it with the Google Translate, writing the Spanglish “aplicación” for “application” instead of the correct “solicitud”  and having people “aplicar” instead of “solicitar.” “To begin” was incorrectly spelled “comienze” instead of “comience”. All the attention on the glitches in the English-language version probably ate up most of the Obama administration’s time, because it really wasn’t until Florida senator Marco Rubio complained about the Spanish version that some corrections were made. I emphasize some, because that’s exactly what happened because. The monkeys are still at it.

While it’s true that it now correctly says “solicite aquí” and “inscríbase” instead of “aplicación” and other grammatical nonsense, a glance at the site shows they still have a long way to go. “Comienze” is still here.

The English version says they are doing a steady rollout, but in Spanish “estamos lanzando levemente” is clearly a machine translation word-for-word which together makes no sense, and “sign up by December 23” is translated to “sign up by the 23rd of the December. “Learn” is translated to “aprender” instead of “aprenda”, “get insurance” in Spanish is “obtener seguro” instead of the more correct “obtenga seguro”, the phrasing for the days left to sign up is confusing, and so forth and so on. There are awkward phrases, missing accents, missing commas, missing periods, extra words, some things in caps when they should be lower case, and vice versa. You name it, it’s there.

And this is supposedly the CORRECTED version. Don’t even get me started on how you’d have to know English in order to get regular updates even on the Spanish website or to find out information in your area. What’s the point of going on the Spanish-language site then?

Who can forget the infamous Cinco de Mayo greeting that then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich sent out a few years ago telling the world that “the house loudmouth, the boaster” “El Hablador de Casa” was wishing everyone a nice holiday.  At least in that case, millions weren’t spent on development and outreach.

That this lack of professionalism continues even in the highest reaches of an administration in office thanks to overwhelming support from the Latino community is an outrage, and definitely disrespectful, especially to the millions of monkeys out there unfairly lopped in with the flim flammers posing as translators. My apologies to those lovely primates because they would have surely done a better job.

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