Latino outreach or Google Translate? 2020 Dems bungle Spanish websites


website of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, posted shortly after her Feb.
20 announcement, addresses her mother using a masculine adjective. Sen. Kamala Harris at one point wrote that she had “wasted” her life defending American democracy
. And Julián Castro’s website extolls the possibility of building an “América” that works for everyone, seemingly not realizing that he’s making promises about the entire American continent.

The Spanish-language sites represent an effort by the Democratic candidates to court the burgeoning Latino electorate, estimated at 27 million by Voto Latino, a group that works to register Latino voters. But good intentions aside, the errors risk producing the opposite effect, prompting Spanish speakers to question how seriously the candidates are taking them if they can’t even get basic English-to-Spanish translation right.

Kamala Harris

The Harris site misused the verb

Harris’ site misused the verb “gastar,” which resulted in her saying she “wasted” her life defending U.S. values. The error was corrected shortly after a congressional staffer flagged it on Twitter.

“It’s the front door to the campaign. And it’s indicative,” said Lisa Navarrete, an adviser at UnidosUS, the oldest Latino advocacy organization in the United States. “If you’re not investing in this … it will indicate to us that perhaps you’re not taking the other parts of reaching out to the community as seriously.”

POLITICO’s review looked at everything from basic grammar, to use of idioms, to how closely the text aligned with the often-poor Google-generated translation. The candidates fell into three rough categories: top of their class, average performers and the truly struggling.

Three candidates, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang and John Delaney, earned failing grades for not having Spanish websites at all, while Beto O’Rourke’s and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ websites were incomplete.

Though all the candidates made at least a few mistakes, some were far superior to the others.
Harris got off to a somewhat rocky start with her Spanish website. In late January, a former congressional staffer spotted her misuse of the word “gastar” — the Spanish verb “to waste” — to mean spending her life “defending the values of our country.” The former staffer, Frederick Velez III, questioned why campaigns didn’t put more of an effort into hiring a diverse staff.

The publication Latino Rebels alsopointed out her website’s other errors.

Harris has recovered since that stumble. Her Spanish site is virtually error-free, and she took the additional step of providingreal-time translation at a March 1 campaign town hall in Nevada. Harris has also hired Latinos to several senior roles, including campaign manager and digital organizer. Her campaign chair is the labor rights icon Dolores Huerta.

Booker has done similarly well: He gave one of the first interviews after his Feb. 1 announcement to Univisión, speaking entirely in Spanish.

Cory Booker

Where Google Translate text roughly matches campaign text

Cory Booker,A-

Booker’s website has some apparent changes from the Google Translate output, demonstrating that major cleanup was done to make the language more familiar and easy to read.

English Website

When Cory’s parents tried to move into a neighborhood with a good school district, no one would sell them a home because of the color of their skin. A group of volunteer lawyers, who had seen what happened on Bloody Sunday in 1965 and were inspired to help black families in their own community, stepped in to help the family get their home.

Exact Google Translation

Cuando los padres de Cory intentaron mudarse aun vecindarioconun buen distrito escolar,nadie lesvenderíauna casadebido alcolor de su piel. Un grupo de abogados voluntarios,que habían visto lo que sucedió el domingo sangriento en 1965 yse inspiraronpara ayudar a las familias negras en su propia comunidad, intervino para ayudar a la familia a tener su hogar.

Campaign Translation

Cuando los padres de Cory intentaron mudarse auna comunidadconbuenas escuelas,nadie lesquería venderuna casasólo por elcolor de su piel.Luego de ver lo ocurrido en el Domingo Sangriento de 1965,un grupo de abogados voluntarios se inspirarona ayudar a familias afroamericanas en su comunidad y se ofrecieron a proveer ayudaa la familiade Cory para obtener un hogar.

Notes

Great Spanish compared to your peers.

Common Mistakes

A reference to football on your website should be translated to “fútbol americano,” otherwise it doesn’t make sense showing a picture of you in shoulder pads if you were playing soccer.

“My Spanish isn’t perfect, but I want to speak directly to the people,” Bookertold Univisión. The former mayor of Newark, N.J., learned most of his Spanish through a language-immersion program in Ecuador, where he lived with a host family, and he earlier had also studied the language in Mexico.

Two lesser-known candidates also demonstrate proficiency. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s (D-Hawaii) Spanish website has relatively clean copy, and she shows cultural sensitivity by using the phrase “voluntario/a” to include the male and female genders. Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington state whose platform hinges on counteracting climate change, uses mostly appropriate terms for a highly technical subject.

Jay Inslee & Tulsi Gabbard

Inslee and Gabbard's site have robust Spanish, tranlations even accounting for gender sensitivity and technical language.

Inslee and Gabbard’s websites have robust Spanish translations, even accounting for gender sensitivity and technical language..

Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary, has a complicated relationship with the Spanish language. The only Latino in the field, he announced his candidacy in both English and Spanish at an event in San Antonio, Texas, to the tune of mariachi trumpets.

But Castro has acknowledged he is not fluent in the language. In that way, he’s representative of a large swath of immigrant-descended Hispanic Americans who grew up entirely in the United States.

Julián Castro

The Spanish website of Julian Castro has multiple grammatical errors.

  1. The date format in Spanish would be: “11 de enero del 2019.”
  2. “Duda” is a feminine noun, so “no doubt” should be “ninguna duda.”
  3. Verb conjugations in the subjunctive are tough. This would be “una vision que nos una, no que nos divida.”
  4. “Hungry for” translates to “hungry of” in Spanish, so it should be “hambre de.” Visión is feminine, so watch the article that precedes it — should be “una.” Also, América is typically used to refer to the American continent, not “Estados Unidos”

“I speak Spanish to some extent — I’m just not completely fluent at it,” Castrotold NPR’s LatinoUSA podcast in February, as he also spoke of the abuses that his mother, a Chicana activist, faced in Texas, including being subjected to corporal punishment for speaking the language. “We were beating the Spanish out of families. Because of that, families made a decision to focus a lot of times on teaching their kids English because they thought that that was the ticket to make sure that they could get ahead.”

But his website still includes some rookie mistakes, such as calling the United States “América” instead of “Estados Unidos” and being inconsistent between the informal tú and the formal usted.

Passages on Castro’s Spanish website also bear a close resemblance to the Google-translated text, leading to some awkward phrases.

Julián Castro

Where Google Translate text roughly matches campaign text

Julián Castro,B+

Castro’s translation largely matches the translation generated by Google, but in his case, the sentences are coherent. Other mistakes are apparent on the website, though.

English Website

America isn’t just my home and my country — it’s always been a promise for a better life. A promise that every American deserves.

My path to public service did not begin with me. It began when my grandmother, Victoria, came to the United States at seven years old. She never made it past the fourth grade, but worked hard to teach her family the value of hard work as she cleaned houses and worked as a maid.

Exact Google Translation

Estados Unidos no es solo mi hogarymi país, siempre ha sido una promesa para una vida mejor.  Una promesa que todo estadounidense merece.

Mi camino al servicio público no comenzó conmigo. Comenzó cuando mi abuela, Victoria, llegó a los Estados Unidos a los siete años. Nuncapasó delcuarto grado, pero trabajóarduamentepara enseñarle a su familia el valor del trabajo duro mientras limpiaba casas y trabajaba como empleada doméstica.

Campaign Translation

Estados Unidos no es solo mi hogaromi país – siempre ha sido una promesa para una vida mejor.  Una promesa que todo estadounidense merece.

Mi camino al servicio público no comenzó conmigo. Comenzó cuando mi abuela, Victoria, llegó a los Estados Unidos a los siete años. Nuncasuperó elcuarto grado, pero trabajóduropara enseñarle a su familia el valor del trabajo duro mientras limpiaba casas y trabajaba como empleada doméstica.

Notes

Castro makes an effort to write well, but could benefit from asking someone else to check his work.

Common Mistakes

Other parts of the website include mistranslated email and phone number fields, grammatical errors in his blog, and repetition of formal and informal pronouns in his listserv sign-up form.

Castro also maintains a blog on his website, but the Spanish version is riddled with typos. And many of the entries in English are not translated into Spanish at all.

The campaign did not return repeated requests for comment.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand once had a tense relationship with the immigrant community, having supported a measure earlier in her political career that would have made English the official language of New York, where 19 percent of the population is Hispanic, according to Pew.

Until her recentofficial campaign launch, the Spanish website for the now-presidential contender featured a video introducing readers to Gillibrand’s background, but offered no translation or subtitles for it, making it inaccessible to Spanish speakers. Other campaigns with videos have this flaw, too.

Before its relaunch, the website also left a policy proposal up with a headline mixing both English and Spanish.

“Service members and veterans, national security and gun safety miembros de las fuerzas militares, veteranos, seguridad nacional y regulaciones para armas de fuego,” the title read.

Elizabeth Warren

Warren has some rather nonsensical translations on her website.

  1. United States is a plural noun, so this should be “unos Estados Unidos que funcionen.”
  2. “The edge of the middle class” doesn’t really translate well to “al borde de la clase media.”
  3. Estados Unidos is a plural noun, again, but this phrase also doesn’t read well because of the repetition.
  4. This should use the preposition “de.”
  5. The verb “conocer” is usually used to refer to meeting people or places — it would be much better to say, “Aprenda más.”

Kirsten Orthman, a spokeswoman from the campaign, said of the errors: “A handful of typos were brought to our attention and we have been in the process of correcting them. We’re also continuing to update our website — both the English and Spanish versions. And yes, we have Latinx staff working on this and we’re always working to expand our content and make it as strong as possible.”

The Warren campaign also updated some errors after POLITICO pointed them out while requesting a comment.

Klobuchar’s Spanish website has perhaps the most egregious mistakes, leaving readers to wonder whether the text was copied and pasted straight from Google Translate.

Line by line, the text is almost identical.

Amy Klobuchar

Where Google Translate text roughly matches campaign text

Amy Klobuchar,C

The overwhelming majority of the main text on Klobuchar’s website is an exact match with Google Translate, causing unfortunate translations like the following, in which she says she is speaking from inside the Mississippi River.

English Website

On a cold February day in Minneapolis on the mighty Mississippi River, with thousands of friends and supporters at my side I announced that I’m running for President of the United States. As I said that day in our nation’s heartland, we must heal the heart of our democracy and renew our commitment to the common good.

Exact Google Translation

En un frío día de febrero en Minneapolis, en el poderoso río Mississippi, con miles de amigos y simpatizantes a mi lado, anuncié que me postularía para la presidencia de los Estados Unidos. Como dije ese día en el corazón de nuestra nación, debemos sanar el corazón de nuestra democracia y renovar nuestro compromiso con el bien común.

Campaign Translation

En un frío día de febrero en Minneapolis, en el poderoso río Mississippi, con miles de amigos y simpatizantes a mi lado, anuncié que me postularía para la presidencia de los Estados Unidos. Como dije ese día en el corazón de nuestra nación, debemos sanar el corazón de nuestra democracia y renovar nuestro compromiso con el bien común.

Notes

Klobuchar could follow in the footsteps of other candidates by doing more revisions to the text to make it familiar and fluid.

Common Mistakes

Spanish readers can tell when the wrong gender is used to refer to your mother!

Klobuchar’s English text, written colloquially in an apparent bid to highlight the senator’s Midwestern roots, speaks of her parents’ and grandparents’ working-class background and their struggles to help their children achieve post-secondary education. But “sending” someone to college does not translate to “enviar,” a verb Klobuchar uses that is more commonly used for postal packages or emails.

The text also has some gender and number disagreements, notably using a male adjective and a plural verb conjugation for Klobuchar’s mother. 

In a statement, a spokesperson from the campaign wrote that it “hired a professional translator who is a native Spanish speaker to translate [the] site.” The D.C.-based firm, Trill Multicultural, disputed the errors pointed out by POLITICO, saying it came down to mere word choice and that only a well-informed professional would be able to notice the finer points.

“We will always correct errors and make improvements when they are needed,” the Klobuchar campaign said.

Amy Klobuchar

Klobuchar has some nonsensical translations on her website.

  1. This preposition means a person is in the river, not near it or by it.
  2. “Abuelo” should be followed by “quien” — who — and not “que,” which means “that.” Also, numerals in spanish are separated by periods instead of commas (1.500).
  3. “Enviar a la universidad” is not really an idiom in Spanish — the verb is used to mean sending packages or letters.
  4. Here, used “un orgulloso,” a masculine article and adjective, to refer to your mother. Try “una orgullosa miembro.”
  5. Here, a plural verb conjugation on “brindaron” is used to to refer to “mother,” which is a singular noun.

Navarrete, the adviser from UnidosUS, acknowledges that it is reasonable to expect that some campaign websites will not be perfect.

But the campaign websites of Buttigieg, Yang and Delaney have no Spanish-language counterpart. Just this week, Buttigiegclaimed he could do Spanish interviews with his local Spanish radio station while talking about his eight language proficiencies.

Neither the Buttigieg nor the Yang campaign returned repeated requests for comment.

Michael Starr Hopkins, national press secretary for Delaney’s campaign, said that the website was just relaunched and the former Maryland congressman is working on publishing a Spanish website. “We plan on campaigning for the votes of everyone in this primary, including Latinx voters, which is why we’re going to campaign in all 50 states during the primary.”

Sen.Bernie SandersBeto O’Rourke, on the other hand, have launched only landing pages for their sites, so they have less text to translate. Other campaigns they have promoted in the past, such as Sanders’ 2016 presidential run or O’Rourke’s 2018 Texas Senate run, have had appropriate copy. Even so, both campaigns made some mistakes.

Bernie Sanders & Beto O’Rourke

Thus far Sanders and O'Rourke have only translated their landing pages. The rest of their sites do not have translations.

Thus far,Sanders and O’Rourke have translated only their landing pages. The rest of their sites do not have translations.

President Donald Trump is in a whole different category, and not a good one for Spanish speakers interested in his policies. He didn’t have a Spanish website during his 2016 campaign, and his official White House site doesn’t have one, either. Same goes for his reelection campaign.

One of the top Latinas in the administration, Helen Aguirre Ferré,explained the decision not to launch an official Spanish website last summer by saying, “As important as it would be to have something in Spanish language, I think by and large most of us actually do speak English to a great degree. And I would like to see something in Spanish language, but is it the most necessary thing that we need? I don’t think that it is.”

About a month later, she left her position as director of media affairs.

Design and production by Lily Mihalik.

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