Translation of life-saving content requires much more than word-swaps

Gabriela Rviera
A person wearing two hairbuns, glasses, and a face mask looks at the camera. Below them reads "Resolve Philly Spanih Translation COVID-19 Style Guide"

Meet a new resource for bringing consistency and clarity to English-to-Spanish news translations

At the end of February, I found myself, like many others, relying on mainstream news outlets to stay informed and up to date with the constant influx of information pertaining to COVID-19. As I tuned in every day and did my best to keep my parents informed from a distance, I began to wonder about the information that was being made accessible to them in their native language, Spanish. It was becoming more and more evident to me that the information that I was seeing was not being made available in Spanish, and that American news coverage was catering to people who primarily communicate in English. This lack of information accessible in Spanish is leaving a significant portion of the Latinx and Hispanic communities under informed about the scientific, environmental, and health issues that affect their lives.

We see translation everywhere: the bilingual signs at the train station, language options when calling a customer service line, and bilingual labels and manuals. Even though translations appear to be available and abundant, it is my opinion that they often missing the intimacy that comes with knowing and understanding a language. Language used when informing a non-English-speaking, Spanish-speaking audience needs to be understood by all Spanish speakers, not just those from the same country or generation or who have the same interests as the translator. As translators and journalists, we need to be able to use our skills to adapt to audiences’ linguistic characteristics and contribute to a Spanish that is understood by the majority. It’s more important than ever to inform the Latinx community that, for many reasons, we are more vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 and we have to do more to protect ourselves and our community. This pandemic has only emphasized the importance of having reliable Spanish language media outlets to provide life-saving information.

That’s why I created our Spanish Translation COVID-19 Style Guide, a 13-part guide that uses examples to explain many different aspects of translation, from grammar and punctuation to the correct way to translate proper nouns, races and genders. It will serve as a reference to both old and new journalists, editors and translators, to ensure that future reporting will be inclusive and cohesive. As a student of the Spanish language, I have realized that there is so much more to learn about the language than what we hear among our friends and family. This document fills the need for comprehensive, standardized guidelines that can meet the needs of diverse Spanish audiences.

An example from the COVID-19 translation guide answering the question "Is the definite article used with COVID-19 masculine or feminine?"

A snapshot of the Resolve Philly Spanish Translation COVID-19 Style Guide.


When I was given the task of creating this translation guide, I thought about the Spanish-speaking people that I have helped in my previous positions, where they might be getting their information now, and what they might still need to know. From what I have gathered, most of them receive their news from Facebook or WhatsApp, which, as many of us now know, are not the most credible “news” outlets. The solution: expanding newsrooms’ awareness of the magnitude and the diversity of the American Spanish-speaking population and providing tools that will allow them to connect and build relationships with a community that has been left to survive on information that is often unreliable and sometimes even dangerous.

The purpose of this tool is to facilitate the translation process for newsrooms and journalists and allow their content to be communicated effectively and to the widest possible audience. Being a translator is about more than just being bilingual. The ability to communicate information effectively in Spanish means being aware of all of the linguistic tendencies of Spanish-speaking people and thinking in a multinational manner. One cannot just translate a word and accept its literal translation; information needs to be put through a bicultural filter that will allow the information to be digestible and comprehensible to the target audience. In these uncertain times, it is of utmost importance that everyone is informed, especially those to which COVID-19 poses a disproportionate risk, like the Latinx community. I hope that through the use of this tool, we will be able to inform and protect a community that forms a large part of the city of Philadelphia and ensure that we ALL stay equally informed.