Capacity building in Spanish: What's lost in translation?

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The Spanish-speaking community faces unique accessibility challenges with technology. Most technology tools are built solely with English-language users in mind, and are often too costly for most migrant communities in California. This holds especially true among nonprofit organizations working in service of Latin@ communities.

In listening to nonprofits from around the state of California in early spring, we realized the need to collaboratively design and facilitate Spanish-language nonprofit technology workshops. To start, we spent most of March and April localizing our existing online communications workshops. We then hosted our first Spanish language workshop in Los Angeles on May 8, 2015, with the help of IDEPSCA . The learning resources that we used can be found here. Below are some of the things we learned in doing this workshop in LA.

The day started off great, with Javier and I setting up the room with a circle of chairs and a breakfast of café con pan dulce. Once everything settled down and we waited for people to show up, I began to get nervous. Nervous because I was about stand in front of people to facilitate a training, which is nothing new, but it still gets to me. However, something else was lingering in the back of my mind: what if no one shows up?

I wondered, do we have enough of a reputation to be seen as "trustworthy" in the Latin@ community? Getting people to show up has been a recurring challenge since we started offering Spanish-language workshops at the SF Tech Center. That day, I was optimistic because we had good registration numbers. But while we can pretty accurately predict no-show rates with the nonprofits we traditionally work with (which are predominantly English-speaking), predicting actual attendance in this instance is different. It's a new space we're venturing into for the first time.

Fortunately, we had built a relationship with IDEPSCA at our Dev Summit last year, and participants began to show up. This led to the first challenge: finding a common language in the Latin@ community. Spanish is an umbrella language, and within that, words and their connotations differ significantly across different nationalities. For example, a word that has a positive connotation in El Salvador could have a negative connotation for someone in Puerto Rico. I had to constantly think of this as I was running the workshop.

The topics that were covered during the workshop included an analysis of online channels and processes for coordinating online communications. For this, we used resources that we refer to as "Spectrum of Engagement" and "Publishing Matrix". These titles make sense to me in English and in Spanish—because I work with them on a daily basis. When the participants saw these titles and heard me say them, I saw the expression on their faces change. Maegan helped with unpacking and grounding these concepts into a shared language, and while there was some difficulty, we were able to keep participants engaged.

This training would have not been possible without the help of Maegan Ortiz and IDEPSCA. I want to take this time to thank them for opening their doors and making us feel welcomed in their home. It was a great pleasure having collaborated with them and we look forward in seeing this relationship grow further.

I think that there is still a lot of room to grow as we reflect and recompose in the coming weeks. However, the improvement of these resources is an ongoing process that that needs the collaboration of the people they are meant to serve. We invite anyone interested in providing feedback to get in touch, join us on our next series of Spanish-Language webinars, or spread the word to others that may potentially benefit from our efforts.