Client Talk: The city of Hopkinsville

What do clients think? Not what they tell you on a sales call, or what the polite feedback they share after an assignment is. What do they really think about translation?

Welcome to Client Talk, a new MultiLingual column where we chat with people who buy (or should buy) language services. When is professional translation worth it? If clients don’t buy, why not? What do they do instead?

By chatting with clients outside a sales environment, we can identify what actually motivates purchasing decisions, and maybe expose misconceptions about our industry as we go along.

The client

The client in this case is Brooke Jung of Solar Eclipse Marketing, events consultant for the City of Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

Since this is a job created just for Jung, let’s explain: August 21, 2017, is the first total solar eclipse in history that will only be visible in the United States. The remainder of North America will experience a partial eclipse. The eclipse path starts in Oregon, then crosses the country from west to east before ending in South Carolina. Hopkinsville, Kentucky, is the point of greatest eclipse — the scientific “center” of the eclipse path where the moon’s axis will be closest to Earth. All of 200 million people live within a day’s drive of its path, so the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) predicts the August 21 eclipse will be the most highly viewed in history.

Since they’re at dead center, the City of Hopkinsville has hired Jung to coordinate logistics for all the eclipse-chasers, researchers and tourists pouring into the rural Kentucky town. She also oversees marketing — managing an informational website and overseeing the development of an event app. In other words, Hopkinsville is a potential client for localization, signage translation and event interpreting.

The need

Of the 31,577 people who live in Hopkinsville, only 200-400 are limited-English proficient so as far as pre-eclipse language needs go, that’s pretty small. However, in addition to those 200 million Americans expected to arrive on-scene, total solar eclipses draw a global crowd. University of Missouri Astronomy and Astrophysics professor Angela Speck says an eclipse in Mexico generated so many international tourists, the government shut the border down. At the time of this interview, Hopkinsville anticipated 100,000 people from 12 different countries — and that number is getting bigger every day.

But Jung says, “We don’t really see language translation as a huge need. We don’t feel the need is great enough to retain interpreters and the variety of languages is so diverse, we would be hard pressed to find all of the languages on a volunteer basis. We are not currently working with either [professionals or volunteers], but if we had to choose, we would select volunteers as our budgeting is limited.”

So what is the budget?

“There isn’t really a budget set aside for this in particular. So far, any large non-English speaking groups have noted that they are providing their own translators, some that know about astronomy specifically.”

How important does the client say professional language services are on a scale of 1-5?

“I would say a 1-2. We obviously want to make all groups feel welcome, but have not had the requests nor do we anticipate that those traveling to our community will need this service that is not already provided at the touch of a button”.

The client’s solution

“With all of the technology that is in existence, it is easy to have a translation or recognize a language at the touch of a button. We will be using the ‘I Speak’ program that the Hopkinsville Police Department currently has an agreement with for any situations that arise. I am speaking of the technology that we all carry in our pockets through apps such as Google Translate and other free or cost-effective translation apps. Many visitors coming will have access to these apps as well as residents locally. The I Speak cards are an initiative of Homeland Security and help identify what language someone speaks by pointing to a card. I believe there is also an accompanying phone line that the police department has access to.”

As a clarifying note, the “I Speak” cards are not a Homeland Security initiative. Rather, — a US federal interagency website — circulates “I Speak” cards created by the US Census. These cards place a target language translation of the phrase “I speak [language here]” next to the name of the language in English. English-only speakers can show the card to people who do not speak English, who may then point to their language. This allows the host to know what someone speaks before calling an over-the-phone interpreting line for assistance.