Should you hire a new translator?

At a recent meeting with a local Latino advisory group, I had the privilege of listening to a presentation by Carlos Pava, director of Voices for Health, a Grand Rapids, Michigan based translation service provider. Voices for Health serves many clients but specializes in the health care industry.

As Carlos presented Voices for Health’s list of capabilities, he explained the process used for screening translation candidates. On occasion, Voices for Health may reject a candidate based on lack of linguistic skills or knowledge of meaning between languages. Even candidates that are native, life-long speakers of a language can be rejected. The truth is, just because someone is a native speaker of Spanish or is of Latin-American heritage does not make him or her an automatic bridge to Latino culture.

While Voices for Health’s screening standards may seem obvious, there are some marketing communications professionals that don’t seem to understand the importance of language, especially when it comes to the value between language and culture. Unfortunately, on occasion I will come across an advertisement in Spanish that was translated literally from English and contained no cultural value or consideration of the intended audience. This is an issue some of us face when working in Hispanic marketing.

As I have become involved with Hispanic targeted marketing over the years, I have also developed a great respect and admiration for linguistics and, naturally, for those individuals that are professional translators. I have forged working relationships with these experts that I consider invaluable. In marketing, relevance is key and confidence that the meaning and value of a message is being appropriately transmitted is paramount.

As a representative of a company or organization, don’t you want your product or service’s brand to have a powerful cultural presence within the Latino community, regardless of language?

Here are some points to consider with regard to language and translations:

  • Understand there are cultural and emotional connections to language.
  • Find a trusted partner for translation services, one that understands the cultural significance between both languages.
  • Don’t rely on individuals just because they are native Spanish speakers.
  • Don’t simply translate words, translate meaning. Think “trans-relate.”

Above all, remember that you are promoting a brand. While language and accurate translations are important, don’t sacrifice meaning and value driven messages that can resonate with your target market. Just like any other marketing communications effort, your brand depends on it.


  1. Interesting post and I think you make some great points. I particularly like your reference to “trans-relate.” I would also add that, in some cases, companies and organizations should think about the possibility of developing the content first in-language as opposed to always translating. This isn’t always feasible in terms of costs / effort, etc., but it should be considered if possible.

  2. I agree with Mr. Pava.
    It has taken me around 20 years relating to Latinos
    from most of the representing countries in West Michigan
    for me to say that I am becoming CULTURAllY fluent in
    Spanish. Being born in a pais latinoamericano did not
    make me fluent in the psychological aspect of what people
    bring to me professionally.

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