Healthcare in Translation:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Is poor translation under-serving Spanish-language speakers and recent immigrants? Dr. Jane Delgado, Ph.D., M.S., President and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health says that the controversy over poor translation is masking bigger concerns about the lack of features on the site. At the moment, doesn't have a feature to shop for different plans in the same way the English site does. Delgado also says a big challenge is finding ways to best represent the "language of healthcare" to non-English speakers.


Dr. Jane Delgado

Comments [11]

As I read through the website in Spanish, sometimkes it does appear a bit substandard and/or too literal/close to the English structure/syntax. Although this may sound too critical, perhaps splitting hairs, it does make a tremendous difference for the end user being able to understand, hence obtaining medical insurance, which is the whole point of the site.

Phrases such as "Cómo obtener cuidado médico regular, " “Llenar su receta médica en la farmacia” (farmácia, rather) do sound somewhat awkward and foreign to Spanish.

The other issue is that since this is a project of such national and historical proportions, much care should have been given to all details, including hiring top caliber translators and editors to ensure a clear understanding on the part of all end users.

Jan. 17 2014 09:44 AM
Diana from Manhattan

People focus too much on tiny details of "proper grammar" when there is much more to language. Native speakers raised in spanish speaking countries (and I am one) are particularly narrow minded assuming their variety is the only correct one or at most, that of other native speakers and look down on those who speak Spanglish. Some even still think the Spanish spoken in Spain is the reference point (which of the many dialects of Spain?) However, in the US, Spanglish (lexical/borrowings) serves as a common ground for speakers from different countries. As it gains respect, it will become just another Spanish dialect. It took many decades for Spanish from the Americas to gain that respect.
If the translations on the site are truly erroneous, providing wrong information or pragmatically incorrect options, there might be a danger. If the real problem is something wrong with the system itself, focusing on lexical options (which tend to vary across spanish speaking countries) is a distraction.
If the translation was really done by a machine and never revised by humans, that is certainly unprofessional and will for sure provide very inaccurate translations.
I do cringe a little with some signs on the subway, but in general, they do transmit the right message, even if the word choice or even some of the syntax might sound strange.
An article such as the one on the Washington Post is a shame, and when the Spanish professor he quotes says "prima" is not the right word for "premium", one is left with the impression that she either has not checked the dictionary (RAE, if we want to be purists) or is not a language specialist with some minimal awareness of sociolinguistics and pragmatics.
"Cuidado de salud" sounds awkward for a native Spanish speaker, but the concept of "health care" is there.

Jan. 16 2014 12:09 PM
Amy from Manhattan

The English site has a glossary of insurance terms (which are just as obscure as they are in Spanish)--does the Spanish site have this? Overall, I remember that the English site originally had the same problem of not letting users compare plans before they registered--why would they set up the Spanish site the same way when they'd already had to change it in English?

And since most of Brian's listeners are probably in NY State, I thought I'd see if the state's site did any better for Spanish speakers. Guess what--they don't even have a Spanish site, or a site for any language other than English. Clicking on "Language" takes you to a page that tells you, in each language, to call the same toll-free no. as for English to get free help over the phone.

Finally, Brian, you asked about the meaning of "cuidado." Yes, it's used as a warning, but that's based on "Ten cuidado," literally "Have care" but closer to "Take care"/"Be careful." The word "cuidado" does mean "care."

Jan. 16 2014 11:55 AM
Thomas Graves from Stamford

How's the Obama Care plan compaire to Mass. health care program? That's real compairson.



Jan. 16 2014 11:41 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Yes, the other boogie man here is PRIVACY. But, people, we must not transfer control back to corps and the 1%; we must double down and IMPROVE govt, where we all have (potential) influence.

Jan. 16 2014 11:40 AM
veronica from new york

I'm listening to this lady and to me its very condescending, yes spanish is quite diverse and there are variance between each country or region, but it's not like they reinventing the wheel. Look at what Spain or Argentina or Mexico did for general terminology. The site MUST make sense to anyone reading it whether from El Salvador or Argentina. Cuidado de Salud???? What the heck does that mean? It doesn't even sound right, watch of heath? I'm a native spanish speaker. I wonder if the government did their research and did focus groups with native speaker before releasing it to public, but I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't. Someday perhaps the Royal Academy of Spanish in Spain will come up with a spanish dictionary specifically for spanish in the US, but they haven't. Until then, we must try to amalgamate a generic spanish here.

Jan. 16 2014 11:38 AM
Jose from Queens

The government of PR has had a robust healthcare system for 50 years and a government plan for about 20. I don't understand why the White House is not consulting with PR. It's not about which flavor of Spanish we use but about the fact that we've had to tackle this American insurance terms for more than 50 years. Many companies are in fact American.

Jan. 16 2014 11:37 AM
R. U. Kidding from new york

You are living in the US. You want to access US services. Learn English.

Problem solved.

Jan. 16 2014 11:34 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Well said, Miss Delgado.

Jan. 16 2014 11:27 AM
Leo from Central Jersey

Does Google Translate have a Spanglish option?

Jan. 16 2014 11:26 AM
Prof. from New Jersey/New York

Poor Spanish translation surrounds us everywhere (look at subway signs). At first I thought I was being snobbish about the quality of translation, coming from a country where Spanish is spoken and not being familiar with the slang of Spanish-speaking, American-born people. Now, I believe that in more than one occasion poor translation might pose risks to Spanish speakers in all kinds of settings (airports, trains, and restaurants come to mind). I don't expect it to be any different with

Jan. 16 2014 09:42 AM

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