Finding The Right Word Is Key To Your Message


Finding The Right Word Is Key To Your Message

In An Estimated $11 Billion Industry, Choosing A Translation Firm Is Tough. But Help Is Available.

Excerpted from Marketing y Medios - March, 2005

Several years ago a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office in Texas, which has asked to remain anonymous, saved money by hiring its Spanish-speaking employees to translate the driving test. On the first day of the exam, applicants complained that the multiple choice answers were in jibberish. For example, a right-turn only was translated as "correcto-girar," or "correct-turn."

After drivers complained, the DMV called the American Translators Association (ATA) for help. "The fact that you speak Spanish does not qualify you to be a translator," says ATA spokesman Kevin Hendzel. He points to the fact that the DMV office in Texas was only trying to comply with an unfunded federal mandate signed in 2000 that required services to be in the language of the recipient.

Even so, the DMV office in Texas learned that taking shortcuts is not the best way to go.

From hospitals and pharmaceuticals to government and schools, translation companies are fast becoming a hot commodity as executives scramble to produce materials that the Hispanic population can understand. Industry analysts say that the current translation services market is valued at $11 billion.

The ATA says membership has doubled in the past 10 years to 9,000, in large part because of the growing demand for Spanish-language translations. ATA's Hendzel knows well that there are thousands more translation services operating under the radar, which makes finding the right firm even more difficult.

In fact, companies often miss the mark. A 2003 survey by New York-based TransPerfect Translations found that 57 percent of Latinos who speak English as a second language said advertising is often incorrectly translated from English. Unlike in many Latin American countries, where translators are licensed by the government, the U.S. industry is not regulated. Most are found by word of mouth or from the ATA Web site (

Since 1992, Liz Elting, president of New York-based TransPerfect Translations, has told clients such as Bank of America, Burger King, Nestlé and MetLife that document translation often means more than simply changing copy. "You are actually recreating a new localized document," she says, pointing out that culturally appropriate color, imagery and typefaces should be considered, especially when dealing with annual reports, Web sites or promotional brochures. "We not only ask what region the company is targeting [in Latin America and Spain], we ask what part of the U.S."

In January, TransPerfect unveiled its latest project, Truckers News en Español, the trucking industry's only publication aimed exclusively at Hispanic roadsters. (Fifteen percent of the nation's 3.2 million truck drivers are Hispanic, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.) The 50,000-circulation magazine, which is published by Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based Randall Publishing, is distributed at key truck stops, including Love's, Pilot and Petro locations nationwide. The magazine contains articles originally in Spanish, as well as some features translated from sister publication Truckers News.

That's a good business move considering the Hispanic market is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2010, according to many analysts. If a company wants to create a Spanish-language advertising or marketing campaign, it's a good idea to use a translation service that specializes in Hispanic marketing, says the Association of Hispanic Agencies.

—Sana Butler

About TransPerfect
With revenue of over $250 million, TransPerfect is the largest privately held language services provider in the world. From offices in 66 cities on 5 continents, TransPerfect offers a full range of services in over 100 languages to multinationals worldwide. With a global network of over 4,000 linguists and subject-area specialists, TransPerfect is the largest translation company to be fully ISO 9001:2008 and EN 15038:2006 certified. TransPerfect is headquartered in New York and has regional headquarters in London and Hong Kong. For more information, please visit our website at

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