Language and Cultural Barriers in Health Services

Although this subject veers off a little from my market, I do find it important to discuss it here too. We tend to speak of the Hispanic market as a big marketing billion dollar potential, but there is however, other Hispanic communities that do exist that seem to fall through the wayside.

So is the case of immigrant Hispanic communities in most of the U.S. Unlike the acculturated Hispanics where they have far greater access to services and programs, these immigrant communities go extremely underserved   in one of many of their basic needs.

One of them is not only access to healthcare but also when they do; the ability to communicate effectively with their doctor is difficult when the person has limited English proficiency.

The issue of cultural and linguistic barriers in healthcare among Hispanic immigrant communities is  far too common in the US  and although by law a language interpreter needs to be provided for them, one is usually very difficult to find or not readily available. For this reason, and more often than not, parents rely on their children-usually a child or a teenage child to fill that need.

This of course has major repercussions not only because the child  or adolescent  does not have full understanding of what the doctor is asking but also  because that  puts the child in a position of relaying to the parent a serious diagnosis or interpreting to the parent what procedures will and will  not be covered by insurance. I do believe that that takes on extreme responsibility when you are a minor child.

I personally do not interpret, have tried many times, and to me it is the most difficult task there is so I cannot imagine that responsibility delegated to a child.

Therefore many go untreated and just see a doctor when the situation gets critical.  These facilities themselves are not staffed with professional interpreters that could help in the communication process and when they do the miscommunication makes matters even worse.

On the other hand, when parents need to care for special needs children their access to services, information and treatment becomes extremely difficult.   Funding for these programs comes from federal, state and local governments and usually does not get adequate funding for these services. Not only are they extremely undeserved because of lack of funds, they are readily available for people with very limited English proficiency. Most of the information (if at all) is available and written in English leaving these parents with very little access to them. When you have to navigate educational services, therapists, educators, and special placement in a language you are not fully proficient, the task is daunting for these parents.

 This is an area where I would participate simply because that information should be available to those that need it and in particular when special needs are concerned. Actually, through a family member I have become aware of this situation and with certain organizations that work with special needs to help others with this language barrier gets the services and information they need.

Finally, when it comes to elder care cultural and religious barriers play a role too. Generally, Latinos have a large sense of community and the care they receive is highly centered on not only in the nuclear family but well beyond the extended family.  The decision making process also extends well beyond the nuclear family and it is generally arrived through a consensus. Should they be ill and in a hospital, the patient would much rather hear the bad news from a family member than from a physician, or if the case may be to hear it with a family member present.

There is a traditional feeling of piety, where one sacrifices their own wellbeing for the care of the terminally ill. Women generally take this role and actually perceive it as more of a privilege rather than obligation or duty.  Latino extended families tend to be involved from birth to death and even care for the family even after the member has passed.

These customs tend to disappear in this society where both parents work and having to care for an elderly parent at home; it is usually ends up with a caretaker at home or a nursing home.  Here is gets worse when the elder person cannot communicate with her caregivers (in a nursing home in particular) and usually does not get the proper care she needs. So they are usually neglected and extreme cases abused. It is a cultural thing as well to never complain to the family so many keep quiet about their needs and even abuse which is rampant among the elderly.


On a Lighter Side… Translating Jokes..(Pepito is Bilingual Too!)

On a Lighter Side… Translating Jokes..(Pepito is Bilingual Too!)


It’s Friday and wanted to relax a bit!

In Latino culture regardless of nationality, if you did not grow-up hearing a series of Pepito jokes, you might as well have been living under a rock and although  to me not necessarily funny (maybe because I have heard them too much) the character’s sharp tongue and wit makes them all great punchlines.

Pepito a quick tongued, sharp wit little boy that makes every parent blush for his inappropriate questions and irreverent answers is the character that everyone laughs at because he says what everyone is thinking but  nobody would dare say publicly but would like to.

This character although the subject of many silly and childish jokes is also synonymous with Latino culture because Pepito or Jaimito (in other Latin American countries) embodies the problems, the struggles that persist and by using his wise crack persona many social and political truths and critiques can pass as humor; truths that could not possibly be verbalize only through Pepito.  For example: Like all Pepito jokes

Pepito, ¿qué tiempo hace un avión Habana-Cayo Hueso?

—Media hora maestra.

—Muy bien, ¿y un barco?

—Seis horas maestra.

—Muy bien, ¿y a pié si hubiera un puente?

—¡Uhhh!, varios meses maestra.

—¿Cómo?, ¿no te parece exagerado eso?

—No, maestra, ¿usted sabe lo que es ir dando codazos?:

permiso, permiso, permiso.

Chistes de Cuba sobre la revolución pg. 83

English Version

A schoolteacher in Havana asked her class:

“If the sea between Cuba and Miami were to dry up, how long would it take to walk across?”When she got no response, she asked Pepito to give an answer…
After a moment of thought, he said, “Forty days.”
The teacher was naturally surprised.
“Pepito,” she said, “the distance from Havana to Miami is only about ninety miles.
Maybe I didn’t make the question clear.
Pretend that it’s all smooth and level ground.
NOW how long would it take?”
Pepito insisted however on his answer of forty days.
“But why?” asked the teacher.
“Well, because you would constantly have to say,
“`Excuse me,’ `Pardon me please,’ `Excuse me, sir,’ `Pardon me Miss,’ `Excuse me…’

Whomever translated the joke had the same idea but changed the wording a bit. What happened  to the direct translation “if there was a bridge from: It would have been truer to the original …. Anyhow, this one not necessarily funny but it explains the critique through humor.


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Translating Taglines

 As a translator I have always questioned when taglines should or should not be translated in marketing   copy, not only because many brands have trademarked their slogans, but also because most often than not they get completely butchered in the translation process and clearly lose meaning completely.


It goes without saying that the slogan is the brand message they are trying to convey to the potential customers. If it is a catchy one or a memorable, it is how you develop brand identity.


So my question is why do so many companies get this wrong? The reason seems to be money; they rely on inside staff rather than seeking or hiring a diverse staff (or translators) knowledgeable about the country they are targeting.  Also, there is a lack of just primary research that happens here even from the inside.  If it does not sound right, do some research before you put it out there. What is more surprising is that you are not talking about small or unrecognizable brands either, which I find appalling as to how their creative departments and directors would allow that to go to print.   


Many companies have tried and failed miserably on their translations that there are not enough examples of such hilarity. You just have to Google “translating taglines” and mistranslated slogans’ that pages upon pages seem to come up.


And the results are disastrous and hilarious.


I understand that many slogans use play on words, cultural references and slang words that connect with their general audiences but clearly does the opposite in another language. That is something that could also be referenced in dictionaries such as Urban Dictionary where the slang and colloquial phrases used by many are explained.

It is a tough task not because of its difficulty in getting the correct message across without losing its message but because some just don’t translate at all. Such is the case of Nike’s ‘Just Do It” it did not only trademark its English slogan in several countries essentially eliminating the need for a translation but legally restricting it too but also because its translation never worked well cross-culturally.  However, what Nike does is brilliant; they adapt the same slogan accentuating the countries values and purpose and each countries idea of what the ‘ideal man’ is.


A bit sexist if you ask me, but that is beside the point.


Plus, do you believe that with Nike’s brand recognition it would really make a difference in their bottom line by translating the slogan?  Just the logo is recognizable enough worldwide that a slogan would not make that much of a difference.


Another example is the “Got Milk” commercials. Although this slogan is also trademarked it was translated to the Latino market and suffered a major embarrassment when they came up with the Spanish version. Therefore the translated tagline is Toma Leche. (Drink Milk). The ad itself had to go through many cultural updates because the cultural ads themselves targeting Latinos were not only wrong in the slogan but in cultural representation.


Their later campaigns turned into an initiative The Breakfast Program targeting Latino families that center the importance of “drinking milk as their first meal.”


The first time I translated an ad I came up with 3 or 4 versions of the translated slogan and as I translated the rest of the copy, I submitted what seemed to me the most appropriate. Generally though they tend to be either too literal (which they complained about) or told me that I had missed the idea completely. So therefore I generally submit them all and have the client decide. As mentioned above, given that in advertising they highly use play on words, double meanings and puns, it becomes extremely difficult to recreate and culturally adapt these taglines. One truly does have to put a creative cap on this one!


In The Political Landscape There is No Single Formula For Hispanics

The diversity of the Latino population is never more prevalent when it comes to social and political issues most notably in this election year. Just the way we target them and market to them culturally, they are equally as diverse politically.

Although this is not a political blog by any means, I try to gather every aspect of Latinos and political representation should be one of them.  In an election year such as this one, the political outcome should be encouraged by the “voto” Latino. Despite of what side of the political spectrum you are, we must all agree that our  overall participation and representation as Latinos is quite small, they tend to mostly  not vote because they do feel that their vote does not matter or they don’t feel connected or reached out to about their needs.

Yet, because of the 2008 Great Recession where the unemployment rate as they said in the news media  “ was hemorrhaging jobs’, healthcare costs practically bankrupted you and people losing their homes to bad mortgages, immigration was not a factor ; jobs, healthcare and economy were. So Latino support for Obama grew as he somehow managed to turn it around by improving economy , the passage of healthcare ACA, which will be fully implemented in 2014,  that the most critical issue of immigration was not the important factor in his re-election and Latino support.

Coincidentally, it is not immigration.

At the heart of the deportation debate, it was revealed that although Obama had accelerated deportations more than other president, they [Latino registered voters] still highly favor Obama to Romney by 63 % compared to 23%.  That after Obama’s temporary halting the deportation process under the “Dream Act”   which according to the same study is favored by 91% of Latinos as a path to citizenship.   This practically sealed it for Obama in 2011 when Romney stated he would veto the Dream Act, without giving specifics for its replacement.

The awareness of the deportation issue is more prevalent among foreign born Hispanics. Yet, because of other social and political issues, Latinos tend to strongly favor the Democratic Party.  However, in a recent  Gallup poll it was estimated that 51% of Latinos  have become independent voters, about half of them lean Democratic than Republican.

Finally, although both parties and candidates have steered away from this issue, Obama because of his long record of deportations and Romney because of his earlier stand in the debates on the issue will soon have to change course if they want to get the Spanish vote.  Obama’s announcement to halt deportations of young adults brought to the US as children could bring up another round of ads aimed at Hispanic voters.

Depending on which group you speak to they are either highly Democratic or heavily Republican. In Florida specifically, in Central Florida, there are a large number of Puerto Ricans that lean Democratic and South Florida with Cuban – Americans that are heavily Republican. Couple that with the the other Central and South Americans totaling a large part of the Latino community.

Because of the circumstances that brought them here and the issues that affect them politically and socially, their political preference will depend on which group you ask. As a whole, Hispanics always tended to vote Democratic, yet to a Cuban American they tend to veer more for the Republican ticket and favor policies that go against democratic political ideals. It is evident as to why but in contrast many also favor and use the social programs that it also provides. It is a toss-up but on average, Cuban Americans tend to be generally conservative.

With a large concentration of Hispanics and having one dominant Cuban- American  group with its opposing and more conservative beliefs usually clashes with the other more Democratic leaning Hispanics.   On the other hand, the other Latino groups residing in Florida, which are  Latinos of Central and South American that resent the favoritism of  the Cuban immigration status  and therefore  are more likely to favor the policies on legal immigration such as the Dream Act.

In South Florida, discussing politics becomes a heated debate and there is definitely no room for dialogue or discussion. You are either with me or not and that does become a problem when people try to discuss certain issues or give any alternate view. You are quickly labeled and name called which is bothersome to say the least. I have made a decision to keep my views private and this blog post was just to emphasize the importance of representation because although the Hispanic market is showing great numbers for a potential business market (my target market as well) there is in the other end of the spectrum, a group that gets highly misrepresented and ignored and fall way under the radar. No matter what you believe in or your political viewpoints, there are always two sides to a story, always.



How to Reach the Hispanic Market

How to Reach the Hispanic Market

Posted on June 1, 2012 by Teresa Cuervo / 0 Comment

When you are trying to reach one of the fastest growing groups in the US and one with a growing purchasing power that will near 1.5 trillion by 2015, the Hispanic population cannot be blanketed together but rather targeted and catered to as a “group within a group”. They are not a homogeneous group by any means (as so many believe) but rather different groups with their individual customs, values and needs. Therefore, all that cultural differences and language nuances have to be considered prior to a large Hispanic campaign. By language nuances I mean  that not because it is Spanish it translates across the board.

Yes. Even in the commonality of Spanish  there are cultural differences in the meaning to the same word. You either make it or break it or lose them.  All this sounds  like common sense but .. we have seen plenty disasters in marketing copy . For example, the  translation of the word ‘popcorn’ in Spanish; the reference changes from country to country.  Like this there are many other countless examples such as “guaga” in Chile (child) is not the same for a Cuban which means  a bus. Habichuelas in Puerto Rico are  red beans and to a Cuban habichuelas are string  beans. Try selling that plate in a Cuban restaurant!  Or visiting a friend and telling me what beautiful “pantallas” you have. To me I was using lampshades as earrings… Like these there are many and countless examples. You need to zero in on who is your target and go with their cultural references.

So it it not just a matter of merely translating content into Spanish it is understanding culture that makes the difference in their marketing , you may confuse or offend them greatly by the use of a poor chosen word.

In a Nielsen study on Hispanic consumer behavior, The Hispanic Market Imperative , the growing Hispanic population although are acculturating to the American lifestyle, is not assimilating to it and in my view, this is important to note because of family and peers (who stress their importance of holding on to their roots, Hispanics still find it important to maintain their  connection to their culture and heritage.

The study further says that because of this need to keep their cultural identity,  Hispanics tend to respond to ads that are not only culturally relevant but also speak their language and target their needs.

On a very personal note here and I am sure that many would agree here, If you want to reach the Hispanic market, besides language and culture you  have to consider the family unit, their values and yes, their opinions.

Besides their heavy use of the internet for research,they make decisions and purchasing decisions based on family opinions or make them as a family unit (this usually involves the entire extended family and shop as a family too).

Brands that cater to that need  specifically will gain their loyalty and business. For example  McDonald’s and Pepsi are two of the brands that have embraced this.   Both companies have gotten the two most important facets in the Hispanic market, family and culture coupled it with their own brand strategy  and both brands do this perfectly; McDonald’s by representing Latino culture on their website and Pepsi by engaging the family  using social media and apps which is also a factor for Latinos.

Strategies to Reach the Hispanic Consumer

By the Hispanic consumer we mean mostly the millennial and gen-z generations  who are by and large the biggest consumers.

Per MediaPost there are 6 very important factors of the Hispanic consumer: they are hyper-social,  they use television, smartphones, videos and download music at a faster rate than non-Hispanics and their engagement in the social networks such as Facebook, outpaces other groups.

Having said that then, so  what strategies that could be applied for this group?


Another marketing strategy to reach the Hispanic market is geolocation.  Geolocation essentially means that marketers use the built-in GPS of your device to track the location. Marketers use this with the use of phone apps that the consumer has to agree and approve.

Used for marketing purposes it can lead to a having a leg up in your competition because having your promotions pop up in their phone’s screen can be of substantial benefit to the marketers.

Furthermore, give that Latinos are very mobile friendly and to search online prior to sales and promotions,  they may see this as a convenience much like their phones that marketers already send out pre-sale specials directly targeted at them.

This is also a good way to place bilingual ads in mobile advertising. Marketers also use this strategy to reach customers within the store which is also a habit that Latinos have as well, they search online in store to see where the sales are. For this reason, marketers are taking note and although the following example is in news media the idea is the same they target their audience and cater directly through ads.


Social Media

No news by now that through geolocation, videos, and use of extensive social media , particularly Facebook, and heavy internet use, this is the primary form of maintaining and keeping in touch with the Hispanic millennial.

Per Pew Hispanic Research, they are highly influenced by online ads to visit a store and purchase. Although they do fewer trips to the store, they are more likely to shop more on each trip.  We have already note their preference bilingual advertising and information,  so they still prefer their content in Spanish, particularly web content and read English only sites if they have no other choice. (This is true primarily in the 1st generation Hispanics that still are more Spanish dominant)

Should there be a tab” En Español “they are more likely to click on that tab than continue with the English version.  Furthermore, for Spanish consumers a Spanish domain would help them remember you more that would an English domain name. Couple that with the idea that they the most active in social sites and internet, that they are highly influenced by mobile ads and that although they make less shopping trips, they buy more each time they go, a  young  group with growing  purchasing power, this is a group that are the marketer’s dream. This information is also listed in the link above.


In conclusion, you may say why all this research when all I do is translations well because there is still many, many companies that struggle with this market and apply the ‘one size fits all approach to reaching them and that is a no-no for them. Also, I have encountered disastrous  and embarrassing commercial blunders that have missed the mark completely with  this market by that I  mean in linguistic terms and mistranslations. But that is subject of another post.

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