“My School Needs a Translator!”

Schools and school districts need translators and interpreters to work with students and families throughout the year. In fact, this is a requirement according to U.S. state and federal laws. That’s why we hear teachers and administrators say: “My school needs a translator!” As a former classroom teacher in K-12 schools and, more recently, for adult ESL classes, I love working with schools to provide language access. This may be translating written materials or interpreting at meetings or on phone calls.

Most large school districts have full- or part-time translators/interpreters on staff, but many smaller districts do not. For example, rural schools, charter schools and private schools usually don’t have someone in this position. The role oftentimes falls upon whichever staff members are bilingual. This can be problematic for three reasons. First, your bilingual staff member may feel this is yet another task being added to their already-long list of duties, thus causing resentment. Second, some bilingual speakers are not necessary strong translators or writers. Third, your school could be missing out on having someone who is specifically trained in translation and interpretation techniques—methods and ethics that will help strengthen relationships between parents, teachers, students and administrators.

So many things can be translated for your students and families: back-to-school night guides, letters to parents and guardians, report cards, class websites, curriculum guides and more. Interpreting is often needed for parent-teacher conferences, student learning assessments and IEP meetings. Once you know what your needs are, make sure to tell your translator or interpreter what you want students or parents/guardians to get out of the material or meeting. If a written document is to be translated, tell your translator what the reader’s overall reading level is; this will help the translator to choose appropriate vocabulary and style for the document.

For more guidance and resources about providing language services in your school or district, I highly recommend visiting this website: U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights: Resources for Students, Parents and Education Officials.

What is Localization?

Translation and localization often go hand-in-hand. Translation from one language into another is a clear concept, but localization can be confusing. I think this is because localization is often an unseen part of the translation process, and good translators incorporate localization into nearly every project. Proper localization makes a translation really shine.

Localization is the process of adapting a message to a specific language variant or locale. It ensures that content appears to have been originally written in the target language. For example, a document translated into English may then go through a separate localization process in which the document will be edited for U.K., U.S., Canadian and other English-language readers. (Think “boot” and other words with widely different meanings.)

Some of the most common items changed during localization are:

  • Time format: AM/PM format vs. 24-hour “military time”
  • Date format: For example, the day is always listed first in Spanish, but second in English. Therefore, “4 de mayo de 2021” would be translated as “May 4, 2021”.
  • Number format: Commas and periods are used differently based on country or language variant: 2,044 vs. 2.044. Both of these can mean “two thousand forty-four” depending on the locale.
  • Tone: The default tone of many Spanish-language communications is the formal “Usted”. However, many English-language communications are less formal, and there is no different pronoun used to denote a formal vs. informal tone in English.
  • Pictures and Names: If images are part of a text, there may need to be some changes to those images in order to remain culturally sensitive. Similarly, a title or name might need to be altered for clarity or understanding.
  • Formatting: This includes details like punctuation placement.
  • Capitalization: Capitalization rules can be different depending on the language or language variant.

Software localization is a huge part of the translation industry, and you can read more about that here. That’s not my speciality, but I do a lot of localization in general—both formally and informally. It’s the surefire way to avoid any confusion, and it makes a translation easier and more enjoyable to read!


Last year I wrote about one of my favorite Spanish words, estrenar. Another favorite is tocayo:

Tocayo: Namesake

I don’t feel that the English translation of this word really does justice to the Spanish meaning or sentiment. In Spanish-speaking countries, and especially in Mexico, tocayo is a heartfelt word to refer to someone who shares your same name.

For example, if you know someone with the same name and want to ask how they’re doing, you would say, “¿Cómo está mi tocayo?” This isn’t too common in English, with the exception of perhaps a more formal situation. In English, you might read in a history book that someone’s “son and namesake inherited the throne”. It’s more old-fashioned.

Here are more examples of how to use the word tocayo: https://www.tellmeinspanish.com/vocab/tocayo/

Image courtesy of SmackBangDesigns.

Language and Personality: Who Are You?

Who are you? This is a question that most of us think about throughout our lives. Our self-image and personality probably changes over the years as our interests, relationships, and life experiences show us new sides to ourselves. 

So, what’s the role of language in who we are? Does the language we speak affect our personality and the way we interact with others? What if we’re bilingual? Does our personality change depending upon which language we’re speaking? That’s what François Grosjean, Ph.D., a Professor Emeritus of psycholinguistics, explores in an article in Psychology Today.

In his 2011 article, Dr. Grosjean opines that, yes, our personalities do often change depending upon which language we’re speaking. However, the reason this happens doesn’t necessarily lie in the language itself. He points out that the change is likely a product of culture and context because bilingual people often use their languages for different purposes. For example, you may only use English at work, and only speak Spanish at home with your family. This is the key to Dr. Grosjean’s findings. He shares: “Different contexts and domains trigger different impressions, attitudes and behaviors. What is taken as a personality shift due to a change of language may have little, if anything, to do with language itself.”

It’s little surprise, then, that someone may display more business-like or assertive tendencies while using one language at work and a more relaxed personality when using a different language at home—or vice-versa. I also think that vocabulary plays a big role here. There are simply words in one language that do not completely translate into another language, and thus the feeling and emotion behind those words will always change slightly from one language to another. (Take, for example, the Japanese word “tsundoku”. This is the action of leaving new books piled up on a table or on a bookshelf, unread, waiting to be opened. What a lovely word!)

Dr. Grosjean updated his findings last year in another article for Psychology Today. He again found that environment was the primary reason for these personality changes. If you yourself are bilingual, I’d love to know if you experience these changes.

Photo courtesy of Atlas Language Services.

2020 By the Numbers…and Hello 2021

Well, a very Happy New Year to you! I’m looking forward to what 2021 will bring. 2020 taught us that changes, questions and uncertainty are here to stay. At the same time, growth, new experiences and opportunities we didn’t see coming can also be part of our reality. One of Brené Brown’s recent podcast episodes highlights the fact that life has actually always been this way – and the past year, perhaps, gave me more tools to use when times get challenging.

Before diving headfirst into 2021 (because, let’s face it, we can’t wait to get some distance between us and 2020), I’ve done some reflecting upon where my business is at. It’s looking good, friends. Like many people, my work was slow in the spring and early summer. It’s now picked up, and I currently have more translation projects than even before the pandemic. Here are a few facts about Alison Trujillo Translations from the past year:

With that, I wish you health, happiness and personal and professional growth in 2021. I look forward to further connecting with all of you, and perhaps also providing you with translation services in the coming months.

WindowSwap Love

Picture, if you will, me sitting down to a workday lunch in my dining room. I’m taking a break from screen time, so I look out the window at the meadow and the trees. We have a “filtered” ocean view through the trees, and on really clear days you can make out the sparkle of the sun’s rays dancing over the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

Not too shabby, right? I love my view! Buuuuuut—these days, being at home so much means that even the most beautiful views can start to get old. Enter WindowSwap! Now I can sit and eat my lunch while looking out a window in, oh, I don’t know—Cairo? St. Petersburg? New York City? I love it, and it’s saving my sanity.

A husband-and-wife team developed this site. They say this is “a place on the internet where all we travel hungry fools share our ‘window views’ to help each other feel a little bit better till we can (responsibly) explore our beautiful planet again.”

If you haven’t visited WindowSwap, please do, and make sure your volume is turned on so you can hear the local sounds as well. I might submit my own window view, so perhaps you’ll stop by my dining room window. Happy “travels”!

Image courtesy of Business Insider.

%d bloggers like this: