One of the interesting findings of AOL’s 2010 Hispanic CyberStudy was that online Hispanics prefer English-language media. This is partially because most web content is created in English, but it’s also due to quality. Significant numbers of Hispanic respondents said they felt that Spanish-language Web sites were less comprehensive and of poorer quality than their English-language counterparts. I edited Spanish-language translations for Rodale, publisher of Men’s Health and Prevention magazines. My books produced 1.1 million in sales and $35 million in revenues in 5 years. Here’s what I learned about connecting with Hispanics when translating products for them.
Don’t translate, “transadapt.” You spent time crafting your original copy to pull in your audience with wordplay, clever turns of phrase and fun cultural references that also delivered SEO. You have to make the same message work for Hispanics, but on their terms. Literal translations of wordplay won’t work. Neither will cultural references that Hispanics won’t get.
Example: once I had a lead for a chapter about back pain written in second person. It more or less said, “You’re dancing up a storm at your high school reunion when the back pain hits. Suddenly ‘Twist and Shout’ has a whole new meaning.” Cute, but how many Hispanics go to high school reunions? How many know the song ‘Twist and Shout’? To be safe, I changed the scenario to a Tito Puente concert. Back in the 1990s Puente had name recognition with most U.S. Hispanics and they are more likely to go to a concert than a high school reunion.
Pick top talent. I continually tested freelance translators with a background in advertising or editorial copy, around 500. I picked 3. To save time, try to recruit freelancers who were Hispanic market copywriters or Latin American editors who worked on adapting American magazine brands for their markets. They understand how to “transadapt” copy.
Test them. If you’re a Hispanic market professional, it’s likely that you are skilled in both English and Spanish. Send sample copy to your pool of prospective talent. Try around 20-30 people. Give them a deadline for handing in the sample. If you can prepare guidelines and a glossary for them to follow, even better. Grade the samples according to quality, how well they followed your guidelines and glossary and their professionalism in hitting your deadlines. Translators who won’t provide a sample for free are easily eliminated. You also don’t want someone who doesn’t follow your guidelines or is late. That behavior will repeat itself if you hire them, believe me.
What else to look for in the samples:
>How they adapt wordplay and slang
>How they handle cultural references: do they catch the ones that won’t work and substitute new ones? Or do they leave in references that Hispanics won’t get at all?
>How they handle titles: Some of your titles are tied to your brand equity and can’t be changed, but other ones should be changed so you resonate with your audience. Did the translator pick up on this or not? What kind of suggestions did they offer?
>Did they ask questions while preparing the samples? Good translators will ask you about your target audience, which terms can’t be translated and other specifics. The bad ones inevitably never ask questions—they do what they want and generally hand in weak samples.
Vocabulary. Ideally, you want to create a glossary for the translator, even for the sample. Hispanics have regional differences when it comes to food terms and terms for objects. For instance, a “bicho” is a bug to most Hispanics but it’s a vulgar term in Puerto Rico. You need to review your copy to identify key terms that need to go into the glossary with preferred translations. And don’t be scared of synonyms. In Spanish, beans are “frijoles” in Mexico and Cuba, “fríjoles” in Colombia, “caraotas” in Venezuela, “porotos” in Argentina and Chile and “habichuelas” in Puerto Rico and in the Dominican Republic. You can pick one main term and 2 synonyms—for example: frijoles (habichuelas, porotos)—and connect with most of the audience. If your site has a lot of food terms, create a simple synonym glossary, put it on a separate page and add a tagline that links to it.
Offer resources. I edited a number of health books offering herbal remedies and supplements, but I thought Hispanics would have a tough time finding those products in their local stores because of language barriers. So I researched Spanish-speaking health food stores around the country and included a list of them in the back of these books. Online, it’s easy to add links to resources to help your customers learn more.
Where’s the ROI in all of this? Rodale books were sold via direct mail. When I arrived there, a big problem was the return rate. Many readers returned the books because they had trouble understanding or relating to them—lost revenues for a company with a 30-day money-back guarantee. With my approach in place, return rates dropped by 50%. Unhappy customers became happy customers who paid for their books, and the company made more money. If your site becomes stickier, obviously your bottom line will benefit. And the glue of sticky sites is great content that users relate to and enjoy in their native language.
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