It’s just Spanish

At some point you may have heard company executives say something along the lines of “We can hold off on getting the advertising campaign and user manuals translated. They’re just going into Spanish. Put that on the back burner for now, and let’s attend to more pressing issues.”

Why is it that corporate America considers Spanish the “easy” language? The short answer: cognates, familiar words and geography. Let’s take a quick peek at each of these.

Cognates, to the monolingual ear, imply such a widespread sameness between English and Spanish that the company executives can’t help but assume that translation will be a breeze — a simple matter of word-for-word exchange between the two languages.

Familiar words, to the monolingual tongue, have made using the occasional Spanish word comfortable. People who’ve never taken a class in Spanish name their dog Diablo, call their colleague amigo, and feel comfortable substituting El and adding a final o before English nouns in personal and work conversations.

Geography, to the monolingual eye, also suggests cultural sameness, or at least the ability to effortlessly understand cultural differences. “South America is America, after all” or “Latin America is really not that different from the United States of America” — such sentiments are echoed daily in the boardrooms of companies across North America. What comments would you hear in these boardrooms? Here’s a sample.

“We’re already over-budget on development. But this is for Spanish speakers. We shouldn’t be paying what we pay for exotic languages.”

“We should ask Sheila in Accounting to take a crack at this first. She knows Spanish.”

“We don’t need to be as picky selecting an agency or individual; it’s not a big deal.”

“If we end up with a few minor translation mistakes it won’t make any real difference. They’ll get the gist; it’s just going to Latin America.”

“We’re running behind schedule because of a few compliance issues. But it’s Spanish here. It shouldn’t take long to get done, not like with some other languages.”

“Pull out the translator résumés; that’ll be good enough.”

By the way, résumés tell people to position you as a lower-paid “good enough” worker; marketing materials tell people to position you as a business to be taken seriously. What’s a translator to do? Of course, your natural inclination will be to “set the record straight” and correct your clients or prospects on their misinformed understanding of Spanish as the easy language for translation. But before you proceed, stop and think!

A cardinal rule in marketing communications is to put yourself in the mind of your prospect or buyer. When you do that, you’ll realize that arguing with someone’s beliefs seldom proves effective and does not develop beneficial relationships. No one cares to be told, “You’re wrong. Change your opinion, right now.” Your objective, instead, is to sense the feelings of your prospects, and then try to determine what you could say to get them past those feelings.

Keep these steps in mind in your marketing and advertising pieces. First, strive to direct your prospects toward one claim based on their beliefs — you’ll be honoring them rather than disputing them, while validating their viewpoints. Work to win their acceptance before you aim to build credibility. It doesn’t matter that you’re correct and they’re incorrect about translation matters, with Spanish or any language. As mentioned previously, human nature disfavors the approach of “I’m right. You’re not.”

Second, always describe the bigger picture they envision: more business, more revenues. Weave in relevant details pertinent to their particular scenario. Do they long for better customers? More repeat business? An additional customer base? Structure your phrasing, your paragraphs and your general presentation to show your empathy, your concern — your sincere desire to understand. Only then will your expertise be recognized and sought after. Remember, if you don’t communicate a fundamental level of trust, your chances of actually convincing or persuading your prospects are slim to none. You have to engage them in conversation — you’ll never force anyone to listen! Emotions will overshadow the factual. Being told our thinking is off-kilter will likely push us to fight back against, or at least deny, any fault on our part. But having our feelings acknowledged and accepted before we’re told our line of thinking doesn’t quite measure up — that’s an approach we’re much more apt to allow.

Building upon kernel-of-truth descriptions allows a truer understanding of why a given belief may be flawed. People are given breathing room while their minds process information. This gentler give-and-take fosters compromise rather than forcing a forfeit. Win-win, not I win — you lose! Moreover, when provided the opportunity to shift their grasp of something, people tend to remember more clearly, and to sustain their new understanding. Allow them the dignity to lean into the truth. Why risk living the expression, “That went over like a ton of bricks”?


Addressing the herd as

well as the herd mentality

When the company executive makes assertions about Spanish not placing as high in the ranks as other translations, the herd is bound to follow its leader. Therefore, in your marketing communications and advertising pieces, keep the motives of the many in mind — even basic, generalized motives that may be reminiscent of things we learned on the playground. Executives want to look smart. The members of the pack vie for the attention of the leader. Everyone likes approval and nearly everyone feels pressure from the ranks above them.

Additionally, keep in mind that many people are working longer hours and have less time to educate themselves on the projects that land on their desks. Compounding all this, many people have been forced to take on the job duties of two to three other people. Decision makers and decision influencers within your prospect’s business are busier than ever. Your insights have therefore become increasingly critical to fill in the gaps in their awareness.

Take a good, hard look at your marketing and advertising messaging. What’s your strategy? How are you communicating so that you’re educating and clarifying the nature of your industry? Make sure you focus on the client before you even think of spotlighting your skills or your abilities. Be certain you start your messaging where clients are, not where you want them to be, in terms of general principles of linguistics, translation and any particular language. People feel comfortable cooperating when they feel someone is informing and coaching them. At the risk of repeating myself and proving my own point, our natural inclination is to tune out if we detect someone is lecturing and sermonizing. Review your messaging as an outsider. Read it as though you’ve never studied anything about language. You’re a businessperson getting ready to launch your new product outside the United States. You’re hungry for a successful market reception. You’re in a hurry to get the ball rolling. You want that sale. Yesterday.

With that in mind, how would you respond to the boardroom decision pending here?

“Spanish? The alphabet’s the same as ours. We have plenty of Spanish-speaking folks around and they understand us just fine. Everybody you know knows at least a handful of words and phrases in Spanish. We understand one another just fine. We’re simpático, us English speakers and Spanish speakers. I don’t see anything mysterious or out of the ordinary when I think about Spanish. The term Spanglish is a half a century old, which means the concept has been around even longer. So let’s use our resources more wisely here. Let’s not make a big deal about translating. It’s just Spanish.”