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FutureNow Article
Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008

The Cost of Leaving Hispanics Lost in Translation

By Juan Tornoe
February 14th, 2008

Talking about Latinos — especially Latinos online — is quite trendy these days. We’re online, alright, but the numbers aren’t as impressive as one might think. Currently, one in ten U.S. internet users are Latino. Meanwhile, the conservative estimate is that 18.8 million of the 44.3 million Hispanics living in the United States today are online.

But that’s changing — fast.

You’re probably aware that Latinos are the fastest growing minority in the U.S., yet most businesses don’t realize that by 2050, Latinos will be 29% of the entire American population.*

On top of that, their buying power is growing at even a faster pace. This combination of factors has to add up for businesses, especially online merchants.

But in the words of countless political pundits — who, if you turn on your TV right now, are analyzing our voting patterns — “the Hispanic population is not monolithic.” In fact, there are quite a few factors that, combined, illustrate completely different types of people, living different realities, yet all part of the Latino community. (Without getting too deep, these factors include: country of origin; heritage; generation; place of residence; socio-economic status; acculturation; assimilation; and language preference.)

Varias Personas

Consider the differences between these two individuals:

Alejandro Ramirez — 19 years old. Mexican-American. Bilingual (speaks both languages but reads and writes better in English). 2nd generation (born in the US from immigrant parents). Lives in Petaluma, CA, with his parents, who come from lower-middle class families in Torreon, Cuahuila. His family’s annual household income is $80,000. Although he was born and raised in the U.S. and is quite familiar with the cultural landscape, his parents have nurtured a strong love for Mexico and have ensured that he understands his family’s roots.

Fernando Zachniuk — 43 years old. Argentinean. Moved to the U.S. 10 years ago to start a business. He’s bilingual, but more comfortable in Spanish. He rents a condo in Boca Ratón. He comes from an upper-middle class Russian-Jewish family from Buenos Aires. He’s dating a Cuban-American divorcée who has a 10 year old son. Their annual household income is in the low $20o,000′s. He enjoys the amenities and comfort America has to offer, but he will always be an Argentinean at heart.

You wouldn’t market to them the same way, would you?


I could go on, referring to each single difference that defines Hispanic subgroups, but let’s focus on Language preference for the time being.

En Español, Por Favor

Since many Latinos, especially those of us online, are either English-dominant or fully bilingual, it’s easy for a company to say they’re already reaching out to Hispanics. After all, if they’re online and able to read the content, isn’t that enough?

At first glance, that logic makes sense. But the reality is this: Even if the Latino who comes to your website is fully bilingual and looking for exactly what you sell, they may prefer to read about your offering in Spanish.

Example: If I’m reading about marketing, I have no problem — and may even prefer — reading a website’s content in English. But when the same bald guy (me) is suddenly presented with a desire or need for medical or financial investment information, you can bet the farm (la granja) that I would prefer reading it in Spanish!

The situation that bilingual and Spanish-dominant Hispanics encounter in many cases is that there isn’t enough online content that speaks to them. They either can’t find it, or — more often — it’ so bad that they go back to the site’s English version.

It seems most organizations aren’t taking their outreach to Spanish-dominant Latinos seriously. Instead, they choose to feel safe in the knowledge that there is a translation of their site — no matter how awful. Others pay some attention to the fact that a translated version should actually make sense, but such translations are often way too literal and don’t account for cultural nuance.

“Getting all your ducks in row,” a common phrase in America, is used to describe the action of being fully organized prior to starting a new course of action, but there is no literal translation of it that wouldn’t make a Spanish speaker break out in laughter! Same goes for “Barking up the wrong tree,” “Two peas in a pod,” “The whole nine yards,” and so on.

Translate Concepts, Not Sentences

If you’re serious about reaching out to the entire Latino community, your site should be bilingual. And when it comes to bilingual sites, “transcreation” is what separates the men from the boys. (Hey, it’s just a figure of speech!)

To paraphrase Lingo24’s definition, transcreation is a form of translation, closer to copywriting, resulting in a text linguistically and culturally adapted for its intended audience. Transcreated material is supposed to have the same impact on the target audience as the original source text.

Transcreation is like taking the scenic route instead of the direct highway, so it requires a greater investment to fuel it. Still, the rewards for businesses — especially considering what the numbers tell us about current and future supply and demand — are plenty to justify the expense. It will most certainly take more time, money, and effort to end up with a transcreated site, but my advice to anyone marketing in the U.S. is that they shouldn’t risk not having one.

Back to Alejandro and Fernando for a moment, since this could be the crucial element that either converts them into clients or sends them elsewhere looking for what they need.

Let’s assume they visit your site today. How will you speak to them? Will you give them the choice to experience your content in their preferred language? Will the Spanish section of your site be a straightforward translation or a transcreation? If they navigate your site in Spanish, would they actually care if the language were stiff, confusing, or (worse) boring?

I assure you, they will care.

. . . .
* Pew Hispanic Center report on social and demographic trends

[Editor's Note: Each month, Juan Tornoe joins us on GrokDotCom to share his insights on Hispanic marketing trends.]

Add Your Comments

Comments (14)

  1. [...] Selling your work in the US? You should really read this important market demographics research. [...]

  2. [...] Tornce from GrokDotCom presents a strong case for why you should be creating Latino personas and offer Spanish [...]

  3. Juan, thanks for another great article!

    I’d like to add this question to your list: How, and in what language, will Hispanics look to find your company? Hispanics that prefer to read content in Spanish may also start out searching for it in Spanish (and switch to English only if they don’t find the results they want.)

    Spanish search marketing can be extremely effective from an ROI standpoint. There are few Spanish language pay per click advertisers right now. This lack of competition results in a lower cost per click relative to English, even on highly competitive terms. Starting out now can help to build a higher quality score for your ads over time, which helps to keep the cost per click low when there is more competition later on. This gap in the marketplace creates an opportunity for advertisers taking the initiative first to build recognition now and a competitive advantage later.

    Lastly, transcreation is just as important for Spanish pay per click campaigns as it is for websites – what works in English keywords and ad copy isn’t guaranteed to directly translate into a successful Spanish campaign. I would recommend testing out what works in English in combination with what makes sense in Spanish.

    Thanks again, Juan. Saludos.

  4. Hi Sarah!

    Great to hear from you!

    Very good points… As the old 60′s cartoon used to say, “That, Little Adam, is another story” that we’ll address in the near future :-)

  5. Latino(americanism / gringoism)…what does that word even mean? Is the word Latino supposed to bring images of a of a Mexican wearing a “Sombrero”, of Speedy Gonzales or Chiquita Banana?. Just to shed some light on your ignorance, HISPANICS are the fastest growing minority in the US not Latinos. In the first place Latino is not an English word it’s flat foot/red neck slang. Latino in Spanish according to the Real Academia Española de la Lengua means A Person of a European or American (meaning the whole of America – South and North America) descent that speaks a language derived from Latin; in case this does not clarify it for you languages derived from Latin are French, Italian, Portuguese, Rumanian, Catalan, and Oh Yeah Spanish or Castillian (Castellano o Español). Slap or punch yourself in the face every time you say Latino and are thinking Hispanics in the US don’t use that term because it’s not that LATINOS are peeved by it; it just increases how much of an ass a flat foot GRINGO (ha ha) makes of himself. Oh! and just before some idiot wants to make this racial, I’m a Caucasian, brown hair, green eyed, very white Hispanic male happily married to a beautiful Brazilian black babe and run a software development company out of amazing San Diego California. Stereotypes are so f… up Just Quit!

  6. Benito is reinforcing the points I made in my article, “Latino or Hispanic?”, written back in June 25, 2006:



  7. Great article. I like the concept of transcreation. :)

  8. You’re probably aware that Latinos are the fastest growing minority in the U.S., yet most businesses don’t realize that by 2050, Latinos will be 29% of the entire American population.*

    interesting data.

  9. Wow – perfect article for those of us and our cohorts wanting to reach the Hispanic market. Thanks for sharing what you know!

    Gina Kay

  10. Transcreation is certainly the way to go. Transcreation and not translation is something more of our Singapore customers are asking for when venturing into China. They’re no longer satisfied with a poor translation of their marketing campaign but to compete head on with the local firms. And transcreation is the only way to achieve this. It must be done by the right type of linguist or it can detract from the purpose of doing it in the first place.

  11. Quick Lingo is a professional translation agency based in London that specializes in delivering language solutions. Our team is divided into legal, financial, medical and business translations. For more information, call us on +44 (0) 208 223 7496 or visit our website for a quote.

  12. I’d say it’s well worth the effort to translate your pages – it is not just helpful to those who struggle with the english version, but it can open whol new areas of traffic and conversion and the effect might in fact multiply.

  13. [...] on the latter issue, one thing is certain: the Latino population is booming in the U.S. By 2050 it is expected they will make up 29 percent of the American [...]

  14. by 2050, Latinos will be 29% of the entire American population…..the census records Latino offspring who are half white as “other” What % of U.S. Populations is “other”

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Helping businesses and advertising agencies craft messages that resonate with the Hispanic Community.

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