English to Spanish Translation Issues and Government Materials

The issues related to the Spanish version of the Obamacare website are very well known at this point. Clunky translations throughout the site (Its title literally translates to “be careful of health.”), Spanish pages that link to English forms, and more plague the site. The problems have added insult to injury for those who don’t understand English and need to sign up for health insurance. It’s a difficult situation that has caused more than a few problems for Latinos living in America, but it’s also not the first instance of this type of issue.

A Common Problem

Indeed, the English to Spanish translation problem has made itself quite apparent on government websites in the past. During the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, for example, government forms and websites set up to offer assistance to those in need were so poorly translated that they kept many people from getting the help they needed. Elections are also vulnerable to poor translations, which can sometimes skew voting results.

Back in 2012, a relatively well-reported problem occured in Arizona’s Maricopa County in which Spanish-translated voter registration cards listed the wrong election date. While it’s impossible to tell for sure whether or not election problems such as these result from clerical errors or if there are actually more sinister motives at play, there’s no getting around the fact that they can have detrimental results.

The Effect on the Community

The Latino community has certainly suffered from the translation issues associated with the Obamacare website. Sign-up rates for health insurance are extroardinarily low, and nearly 1/3 of all Americans who lack health insurance are Latino immigrants. Many people believe that poorly translated government websites have a lot to do with these numbers, and that the issue has been going on for far too long. In order to ensure that they’re choosing the right plans, some Latinos are enlisting the help of English-speaking individuals to guide them through the process.

If the issue of poor translation is not remedied soon, it will no doubt continue to cause problems for the Latino community. The problem, however, is that there isn’t any centralized agency to ensure that translations across the board are accurate.

Image of Doctor inspecting mouth at healthcare center: by U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elizabeth Allen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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