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Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Diversity Toolbox

Google can’t replace Spanish-language journalists

By Rebecca Aguilar

NOTE: As Quill went to press, and this column came out, the Hartford Courant announced it was dropping Google Translate and developed its own in-house, staffed Spanish-language site. Read more here.

Over the summer, the Hartford Courant began offering news in Spanish to its readers. It’s something English-language newspapers have been doing around the country, not only to serve their Latino communities but as another way to make money.

For several years, the Dallas Morning News has offered a Spanish-language issue called Al Dia. A staff of journalists who are fluent in Spanish puts together the newspaper. The Fort Worth Star Telegram also has its Spanish-language counterpart, La Estrella; it also has a staff of Spanish-language journalists. In my opinion, both outlets produce quality work and do an excellent job serving the Latino communities in North Texas.

But the Hartford Courant didn’t bother with a separate Spanish-language staff. No, it counted on Google Translate to do the job. When readers visit the Hartford Courant’s website they can click on the words “Courant en Español” for a Spanish version of the news.

But this is a perfect example of how computer software can’t replace humans. I’m fluent in Spanish, and I know that Google Translate may translate English into Spanish, but it’s not always right. In fact, most times they are literal translations that when converted to Spanish just don’t make sense and/or contain many grammatical errors.

DISCOVERING THE PROBLEM

Bessy Reyna, an opinion columnist for CTLatinoNews. com, did some digging into the Courant’s Spanish site and found some blatant mistakes. Reyna, a former opinion columnist for the Courant, wrote:

“The July 12 posts brings these news ‘Este mujer Hartford acusado de apuñalar con el hombrepelador de patatas’ which literally reads: ‘This woman Hartford Accused of stabbing the man with potato peeler.’

“Most of the articles change gender in mid paragraph (‘Mama acusado de conducir borracho..’ (instead of acusada and borracha) ‘Mujer Embarazada lesionado’ (instead of lesionada or verbs ‘Policia hacer arresto.’ Instead of ‘Policia hace arrestos.’”

Editors at the Courant admitted on their website that Google Translate isn’t perfect. They posted this explanation:

“As a courtesy to the growing numbers of Spanish speaking readers, the Courant has begun using a free and popular software developed by Google to translate stories into Spanish. However, readers should be aware that due to limitations in the Google software some of the translations of the English headlines and articles don’t always translate accurately word-for-word into Spanish.”

While the Courant comes up with excuses, Reyna believes the Courant is disrespecting its Spanish-language readers. On CTLatinoNews.com she wrote:

“It’s hard to imagine that the Courant, the oldest continuously- published newspaper in the country, would think so little of its readers as to publish a poorly worded computer generated translation, without anyone verifying that the versions are grammatically correct. Or does the paper think that Latinos are going to be ever so grateful to have to guess the meaning of the news in Spanish?”

OPTIONS AND SOLUTIONS

Why the Courant took the Google Translate route is something the National Association of Hispanic Journalists is hoping to find out. As of late August, the organization planned to offer the Courant ideas to do a better job of serving the Latino community.

Meanwhile, University of Southern California journalism professor Robert Hernandez has come up with a list of tips that he hopes the editors at the Hartford Courant seriously consider. I think it’s an excellent list for anyone wanting to have a Spanish version of their newspaper or news website. On his “Web Journalist Blog” Hernandez offered the following tips.

-Hire a diverse staff, and in this case, a Spanish speaker. Listen to them. Anyone in their right mind would have told you this was a bad idea.

-I know resources are tight, as an affordable alternative to hiring more staff, partner up with the local Spanishlanguage news organizations. Believe me, they are there. And they’d love to help you inform the community. (Hey Courant, have you tried working with Connecticut’s Latino News Source: ctlatinonews.com?)

-No Spanish-language news organization in your town? Look again. Think radio, newsletters or neighboring towns. Any of these will be better than an automated site.

-Still confused? Reach out to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists to find local members in your area, including Spanish-language news organizations.

-But, let’s say there are no Spanish-language news outlets. Partner up with the largest Spanish-language local business. They know their community and are fully aware of the information network that is functioning now.


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