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National Restaurant Association - Translate key documents to help employees with limited English skills

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Translate key documents to help employees with limited English skills

Consider hiring a translator or translation service to recreate your employee handbook, HR policy, training material and employment applications for employees with limited English skills. 

Translating key documents shows you support your employees and helps run a smooth operation, says Susana C. Schultz, founder of Strictly Spanish, which works with White Castle, Bob Evans and other restaurant companies.

Once employees sign that they have read and understood the material, the document becomes helpful and discoverable in case of a legal action. That’s why you shouldn’t risk letting a bilingual supervisor orally interpret English-language benefits documents or policies.

Here are seven tips to find the right translation service and ensure you get your message across:

Consult your attorney to refer you to translation companies with legal expertise. That’s how Johanna Rivera, human resources director, Anaheim, Calif.-based Polly’s Pies found New York-based Morningside Translations. Rivera asked her company’s attorney for recommendations, and she researched every company on his list. She checked websites, called and asked for references and clients.

Make sure your translator or service is familiar with restaurant terminology. Sometimes, English restaurant terms don’t translate directly into Spanish, such as a Wendy’s Frosty or Dairy Queen Blizzard. If necessary, have translators spend time at your restaurant so they understand what goes into a certain dish and how it is prepared, Schultz says.

For example, Schultz and one of her translators went to a Milford, Ohio, Bob Evans restaurant when they were translating e-learning modules for the Columbus-based chain. The training manager had given them proprietary software so they could translate directly into it, but they needed to know how the materials were being used. At the restaurant, a manager took them to the back of the house and sat them at the computer employees used for e-learning. “We went through the whole e-learning module and knew exactly how things needed to be worded,” Schultz says.

Los Altos, Calif.-based Black Angus Steakhouse, relies on two employees for shorter documents, but the 45-unit operation uses outside translation companies for anything related to compensation or benefits. About 20 percent of its 2,700 employees have limited English skills; most of those speak Spanish. The two Black Angus employees also review many documents translated by the outside firms to make sure they reflect the company’s terminology and resonate with Spanish-speaking employees.

“Every company has a little bit different slang and version of the Spanish language,” says Doug Gammon, Black Angus vice president, human resources and training. “We do have jargon.” As a result, translators need to be able to use those terms rather than generic language, he says.

Ask hard questions. Find out from your translation service how many people will review your document before it goes to press. You also need to know their qualifications. Ask for at least four references, and pay special attention to what restaurant clients say.

Think quality. Your company should treat translated documents with the same thoughtfulness and respect as it does English documents, Schultz says. In other words, translated documents should go through the same writing and editing process as English documents. Otherwise, your company could appear unprofessional or condescending to employees and potential employees and customers. “We’ve seen so many things so poorly translated,” she says. One client didn’t want to change a typo caused by its designer in a Spanish document that was ready to go to print. Schultz asked: “Would you leave this word misspelled in English?”

Know your audience. Make sure you understand your employees and what languages they speak, says Patricia Clay of Morningside. Restaurants with employees from several countries might need a few documents translated in to several languages. Others might need just Spanish, but a specific dialect. Find out where your employees are from to determine which dialect you should use.

Be wary of computer-generated translations. Client sometimes ask Strictly Spanish to edit something they translated on line. But those translations often are inaccurate or vague. They’re fine for trying to get the gist of an email, but they’re not a good option for spelling out HR documents or other important material, says Lon Schultz, co-founder of Strictly Spanish. “It takes us more time to rewrite something translated from a computer translator than if we started from scratch,” he says.

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