How to assist Spanish speaking clients when you don’t speak Spanish

How to assist Spanish speaking clients when you don’t speak Spanish

In the southern states, especially Texas, New Mexico, California and Florida, it seems impossible to run a business without a Spanish speaking person or translator. This is also the case in many places throughout the United States. There are several cities and towns that have businesses which count on Spanish speaking employees for customer service and to help their businesses grow. This is a wonderful, multi-cultural phenomenon which we should embrace and accommodate for our Spanish speaking American residents.

Although every office should have at least one person who speaks Spanish, sometimes it’s not easy to find the right person. There are things to do however, that will ease translation with a Spanish speaker if you and your staff don’t know any Spanish. Here are some tips to get by without having a Spanish speaker in the office to do things like set appointments or to provide basic services.

  1. Don’t become frustrated with non-native English speakers

    The first rule of thumb is to never get frustrated with Spanish speaking people. Remember, they are the ones trying to speak two languages. Think of how you’d feel if you were living in Spain or Ecuador and did not speak the language. It would be nerve wracking and upsetting if you had to for example, contact a business for a needed service and you couldn’t communicate easily in the local language. Simply put yourself in their shoes and feel some empathy.

  2. Ask for their email and phone number

    If someone calls your office and requests a Spanish speaker, just ask them for their email and their phone number. Most people will recognize the words ‘phone number’ and ’email.’ Simply go to Google Translate or one of the hundreds of translation tools on the internet. Strike up an email or text conversation instead of talking on the phone at that point. Be sure to let them know you are using translation software.  Words can get lost in translation, and you don’t want to offend anyone!

  3. Use Google Translate

    Again, sometimes Google Translate doesn’t translate in ‘common sense’ from one language to another. It’s important to use short sentences when texting or emailing. For example, “I will help you. What do you need?” Once again, be sure to tell the person you are using a translating software and some words won’t make sense. Apologize in advance.

    Copy and paste the person’s answer into Google Translate, but this time use the Spanish to English category. Chances are some of the sentence structure or grammar won’t make sense, but you will get the gist of the conversation.

    ** Again, it’s very important to remember Google Translate isn’t perfect and should never be used for legal, medical or other important or sensitive issues as the risk is too high for people receiving misinformation due to the message being lost in translation, which can very easily happen when using translation software.

  4. Have forms and other documents translated into Spanish

    If you don’t have all of your forms, brochures and information translated to Spanish, hire someone to do it. There are many bilingual college students trying to make extra money, or if it’s a legally binding document or if money isn’t an issue, you could hire a professional translator. This way when you need to have the client sign or fill out a document, it can be presented in Spanish. If the instructions are unclear to the client and they still have questions, you can ask them to email or text you the questions and then use Google Translate to try and assist them. Always have a copy of the English Instructions and the Spanish Instructions readily available so you know which page or which paragraph the client is having difficulty understanding.

  5. Reach out to local colleges for a bilingual intern

    If you have a college or university nearby, call the school and ask about internship programs. You can offer an internship to a bilingual Spanish speaking student and they can come in at set hours during the day. Businesses are given perks for providing internships, so it’s a win-win situation.  Advertise the day the Spanish speaker will be in the office on your website. This might make people feel more comfortable, and feel reassured that if they go to your office or call at a certain time, they will be able to speak Spanish and have their questions answered appropriately.

  6. Hire a bilingual Spanish speaker part-time

    You could always hire a bilingual Spanish speaker who wants to work part time to translate and interpret for you. If you are concerned about the person’s spelling, grammar, and communication level in Spanish just search for a test to give to bilingual Spanish speakers when they apply for a position. There are dozens of Spanish language tests which evaluate whether someone is fluent enough to translate and interpret, and they are inexpensive.

  7. Market your business to Spanish speakers

    Market your business in a Hispanic neighborhood. Whether you put out fliers in Spanish, or attend a community event, it’s always good to be seen and great for Spanish speakers to feel more comfortable knowing you’re there to help.

Remember there is no official language of the United States. We are all from different parts of the world, with many rich traditions and beautiful languages. Our differences should be celebrated, whatever they are.