Packaging in Translation

Monday, March 20, 2006

Habla espanol?
Increasingly, local companies are - and it should pay off

It's a simple concept: Speak to people in a language they understand.

For global companies, that means translating Web pages, packaging, direction manuals, TV advertisements and any other material in dozens of different languages.

For smaller companies, the transition can be too costly, but an increasing number of businesses ranging from the corner grocery store to national food manufacturers are starting to translate materials to reach a broader market.


"I think it's part of the U.S.," said Des Hague, chief executive officer of Hot Stuff Foods. The company just began a national initiative to have Spanish translations included in its advertising at the nearly 2,000 locations where it sells food.

"If you look at the demographic profile, it's changing, and we need to be on the forefront of that age," Hague said. "We're trying to market to a very growth-oriented and price-conscious group of people."

Companies are trying to grow in today's global market, where a Web site can bridge companies to customers around the world.

Local businesses are realizing that America itself is becoming more diverse. Health centers must have interpreters available for patients who don't speak fluent English, and many lawyers are making documents available in various languages.

It can be as easy as trying to hire more bilingual employees.

Communication is key
Whether it's to an immigrant family just down the street or a country thousands of miles away, an ability to communicate the company's message in different languages is key to continued growth, said Bob McLean, executive director of The Association of Language Companies.

"You've got smaller companies, and sometimes they have a very locally direct geography," said Deborah Johnson, operations manager for Local Concept Inc., the San Diego company that did the translations for Hot Stuff.

"They look at who is in that market and realize there are quite a few Spanish speakers, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. So they decide that there is an untapped market for their product or service right here at home."

That's why the business translation and interpretation industry is in the middle of a growth spurt. Since its inception three years ago, the company has grown from nine members to 130 and expects to double that within two years.

The U.S. market alone is estimated to be a $9 billion market, McLean said.

"What we're doing is we're enabling companies to grow," he said. "We see our companies as partners in business that help companies increase their sales by increasing the number of countries where they can increase the sales of their products and services."

Spanish rising
The Hispanic population is the largest and fastest-growing segment in the United States, and companies often make the step to becoming multilingual by adding Spanish translations to their advertising or bringing Spanish speaking employees on board.

Locally, Ness Tax and Bookkeeping Service has had Spanish-speaking employees for several years and also has some folks who can speak Russian.

"I had heard of the Spanish-speaking community here in Sioux Falls driving to Sioux City to get their taxes done just because they liked working with somebody that spoke the same language as they did," said owner Tim Ness.

Ness does some advertising in Spanish at Hispanic businesses, but he mostly relies on word of mouth.

"Once they find somebody they trust, they tell their friend, and that friend will tell their friend, and it spreads pretty quickly," he said.

For things such as tax preparation, hospital emergencies or legal matters, it's helpful to speak to clients in their native language simply to avoid any mistakes in communication.

That's why hospital systems such as Avera Health have interpretation services via telephone to enable communication. Besides that, Avera has a full-time Spanish-speaking interpreter on staff.

"That's by far our highest need," said Sandra Rockafellow, social service manager. "I'd say 75 percent of our need is for Spanish."

At Sunshine Foods, co-owner Brent Bosch tries to offer a full range of Hispanic food products at his Sioux Falls stores. He also seeks bilingual employees and tries to have some of his advertisements in Spanish.

JCPenney, at The Empire Mall, does much the same. The company changed all its in-store department signage last month to include English and Spanish.

Though Sioux Falls isn't designated an Hispanic market, store manager Barbara White tries to hire as many bilingual employees as possible. That could include Spanish and any number of other languages.

"Actually, we've had some fun with it," she said. "On Christmas Eve, anybody who had a second language did a closing announcement that night."

Hot Stuff Foods has locations nationwide. Hague's decision to add Spanish language translations to all of its marketing tools is a way of expanding their market to an ever-growing segment.

He wants customers to think of Hot Stuff as a friendly brand that recognizes cultural diversity in the U.S.

Two years ago, the company wasn't selling any ethnic foods, and that segment now represents about 12 percent of sales, he said.

Translation not easy
Media translation isn't as easy as it sounds, Johnson said. It's not as easy as translating from English to Spanish word-for-word. Sometimes the meaning can change. The problem is compounded with the different dialects within many languages.

"We need to make sure the intention of the word, when it's translated, conveys the same meaning to the market," she said.

"That takes a little extra time, because oftentimes, there are several ways you can translate something."

For instance, one of Johnson's linguists was recently translating a document with the phrase "shot glass." The word translates differently in every Latin American country.

That's true in the U.S. as well.

"We always ask, 'who's your intended audience?' " she said. "If it's San Diego, where we are based, we know that most of the Spanish speakers here are from Mexico. If their market is South Florida, a good portion is Cuban and other dialects from the Caribbean."

The difficulty is one reason why professional translation firms are becoming more in demand, McLean said.

Bosch's budget doesn't allow him to do entire advertisements in Spanish, but he's continually expanding his offerings. Years from now, he said, that likely will happen here as it has in communities nationwide.

"I think that that's inevitable that you will see the trend move from the coasts inward," McLean said.

"Go to a place like Arkansas, Kansas or Nebraska, and you'll find an outstanding number of people who are not native-born Americans."

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