Working with refugees and immigrants at New York’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, being able to communicate information accurately — and in the appropriate language — is vital.
“We serve thousands of people,” Stewart said.
The state agency, known as OTDA, supervises programs providing assistance and support to eligible people and families. That includes temporary cash assistance, assistance in paying for food, heating assistance, overseeing the state’s child-support enforcement program, determining aspects of eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits, supervising homeless housing and services programs and providing assistance to certain immigrant populations.
On its website, the state agency offers information on how to apply for its services in Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish. OTDA employees handle the translation for those languages. But the office needs documents translated into about 13 languages, Stewart said.
That task isn’t taken lightly. Free online tools often aren’t up to the robust job of translating OTDA documents into various languages to explain the state agency’s services, she noted.
“It can take a word and translate it so wrong,” Stewart explained, specifically referencing Google Translate. “In trying to help the clients, if the word is mistranslated … it just totally misrepresents the program and we can’t have that.”
On Jan. 1, 2011, OTDA began using Cohoes, N.Y.-based LinguaLinx for translation services after issuing a request for proposals. In addition to translation, LinguaLinx offers interpretation, multilingual copywriting, transcription and multicultural consulting.
On a regular basis, LinguaLinx translates OTDA documents into French, Haitian Creole, Italian and Korean. The company has also translated texts into Albanian, Hebrew and Yiddish for OTDA.
“I think their customer service skills are wonderful. They try every way they can to accommodate our needs,” Stewart said. “They’ve been able to come here to Albany (N.Y.) and meet with our technical team.”
In-person customer service, she added, is important.
“They’ve been great to work with,” Stewart said. “They’ve made it very convenient.”
The company has helped OTDA create videos for its school programs targeting newly arrived refugees, as well as various brochures and press releases.
“Just any translation we may have,” Stewart added.
The difference between LinguaLinx and free online tools is monumental, she stressed.
In Chinese, for example, the word “grass” can be translated into English many ways, meaning many things.
“If you translate it wrong, you throw the whole meaning of the document off,” Stewart explained. “It’s critical that it be right.”
In matters of providing temporary cash assistance or supervising homeless housing and services, there is no wiggle room, she said.
“If you’re talking about food stamps, you have to get the meaning of food stamp the proper way for people,” Stewart said. “It’s not a postage stamp and Google translated it to a postage stamp.”
Stewart added: “It’s just not a word-for-word translation. You have to know the meaning behind the translation to get it appropriately translated in the language you need.”