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Speaking Your Community's Language with Translation Services

  • 1.  Speaking Your Community's Language with Translation Services

    Posted 11-10-2022 03:16 PM
    Want to make a better connection with your community members? Make sure you're speaking their language (literally!)! During the Open Arms Challenge, participants made big strides in understanding the demographics of their community members. Many organizations worked to translate their most popular resources into another language commonly used in their community.

    Below are a few lessons you can learn from the Open Arms Challengers on supporting your community in a variety of ways and languages.

    Start from within: Identify what languages your staff and volunteers speak

    Austin Humane Society committed to expanding their reach into their largely Spanish speaking population. They identified adoption team members who spoke Spanish and those adoption counselors received an increase in compensation for this additional skill. "We are excited we now have at least one Spanish-speaking Adoption Counselor during every shift that we are open to the public. This eliminates the communication barrier and creates a more positive experience for our Spanish-language adopters and shelter visitors. We were able to facilitate more adoptions to Spanish-speaking families as a result of our challenge. Having dedicated Spanish-speaking staff during all open hours and implementing a new Spanish-language adoption questionnaire allowed us to focus on relationship building with these adopters, collaborate with them, and facilitate more adoptions. We anticipate that this result will only continue to grow now that we have these options available."

    Before you can begin translating materials, identifying the demographics of your community and your volunteers will give you some deeper insight into what your community members actually need versus what you think they need.

    Broward County Animal Care told us, "In Broward County, we have a very large Haitian population. All of our educational materials are in English, creating a major barrier. There are resources available that this community may be missing out on simply due to a language barrier. As a result, we created an in-house team consisting of our Haitian colleagues. This team has already begun planning outreach activities, as well as, creating versions of our brochures in Creole.

    Through conversation, we were able to clearly identify which issues needed immediate attention and which issues we could begin implementing over time. There were meetings held regularly which included all of our program managers. This allowed us to brainstorm as a team and provide updates on progress made. On occasion, there were initiatives that required more hands on deck, such as, identifying which underserved communities required immediate attention and education as to the programs offered."

    Reach out to local schools & universities to help translate material

    Animal Rescue League of Berks County worked with their local Penn State University branch to translate shelter materials into Spanish through their Spanish class.

    "The bilingual signage incorporated around our building, the accessible website information, and our bilingual adoption paperwork made it possible for Spanish speakers such as Rafaela to have a smooth adoption experience. Upon arriving at our shelter, she was able to easily check-in online, complete an adoption profile, meet the animals she was interested in, and finally, adopt a dog, all in her native language. She was overjoyed to get to take her new companion home without feeling uncomfortable due to language barriers and can look back on her experience with a positive perspective." - Gen, ARL Adoption Counselor 

    Greenhill Humane Society also worked with their local university to translate their intake and outcome forms into a variety of languages. They even have staff members who are taking matters into their own hands and are learning sign language and Spanish. For upcoming events, all event banners, yard signs and posters will be created in English and Spanish. They've also added a preference for multilingual candidates in their job postings.

    Humane Society of Sonoma County went the route of trying to procure professional translation services but found that for the amount of documents they wanted to translate, the fee was more than they could afford (even with a non-profit discount). They reached out to one of their local rescue partners who works closely with their Spanish-speaking community and she suggested running their content through Google translator, then asking a professional translator to review for accuracy. They were able to send the pre-translated documents to a local translator who they already established a relationship with for a reduced rate!

    Use Technology to Help Translate and Increase Customer Success

    One of the first steps many organizations took was implementing Google Translate services on their website. This allows community members to quickly select their language preference and have their entire website translated to the language of their choice. Although it's not always the perfect translation, it is a quick, free way to support a variety of languages.

    Laredo Animal Protective Society has implemented a new phone service that will inform the caller whether they would like to speak to someone in English or Spanish and ask what they can help with, whether that's finding more information about adopting an animal or if they're calling to search for a missing animal. After they inform the phone system about their questions, they will then be directed to the appropriate department regarding their call. Not only does this improve their customer service but it gives the caller a simplified and quick experience about their inquiry. Another practice they've started is sharing social media updates in both English and Spanish. In this example of their Pet Pantry, they posted a Facebook Live in English which received 2.2k views and posted another Facebook Live with the same information about the Pet Pantry in Spanish which received 1.7k views and created this flyer and other forms en Español:

    While also prioritizing the hiring of bilingual staff members for new positions, Austin Pets Alive! focused on improving their customer service experience to their Spanish-speaking community members by integrating Spanish into their website and social media posts. They also translated their adoption and foster applications into Spanish, created a Next Door Network that posts weekly in English and Spanish, created informational fliers in English and Spanish, developed a customer map that identified the interaction points that may require Spanish support then built a volunteer team to provide that support. They created an email address to serve Spanish-speaking adopters, fosters and volunteers of "". To keep a pulse of how they are doing, they've placed a customer service survey link in the email signature of their customer service specialists so that they can continue to monitor ongoing feedback from the public.

    Share Your New Messaging in Creative Ways

    Along with translating program materials and holding two Spanish-language volunteer orientation sessions, Dallas Animal Services created "¿Habla Español?" volunteer badges to make their Spanish speakers more identifiable to the general public at events and within the shelter. They've even translated their entire volunteer handbook into Spanish!

    Humane Society of North Texas made great strides by working with a Spanish translator to accommodate the needs of their Spanish speaking community. Through their translator they were able to translate important flyers and their Cruelty Investigations Urgent Notice door hanger. When their Director of Cruelty & Investigations goes out on reported cases of abuse and neglect, in some situations the owner is not always present and unknown to HSNT, could be primarily Spanish speaking. They've updated their Urgent Notice door hanger to include pertinent information with one side in English and the other side in Spanish. They also made a great partnership with one of their local television stations, Telemundo (a subsidiary of NBC), to share Spanish translated materials for their viewers along with stories that would be appropriate for their audience. They were able to reach a new audience (where they already are watching) and share information about their upcoming events and services that can help members of their Spanish speaking community.

    Lifeline Animal Project engaged with their largely Spanish speaking community by ensuring documentation, signage, marketing and other forms were available in Spanish. Word of mouth within their Latinx community spread quickly about their project to make their items more accessible and the impact was felt quickly as their staff noticed they were quickly running out of the Spanish version of their forms and were constantly printing more. A client told their clinic manager that being handed the form made her feel so happy and she was more comfortable leaving her pets in the care of the clinic knowing she was understood and her voice was heard.

    Success Stories from the Challenge

    "The thing that most surprised us from participating in this challenge is that most of the barriers that existed required a very minimal effort to correct, or plan to address. These barriers have existed for a long time, however, this challenge brought the issues to the forefront and allowed us to identify through simple conversation. From language barriers to updating our mission statement so that it is more inclusive, we are on the right path thanks to the Open Arms Challenge." - Broward County Animal Care
    "In December, we had a youth volunteer sign up for our English language orientation, but when she arrived and began signing paperwork, it became clear that there was a language barrier that would prevent her from getting the information needed from orientation. Because our materials had already been translated into Spanish and we had previously hosted an orientation in Spanish, we were able to pivot in that moment and offer her a Spanish-language orientation. Her mother, a monolingual Spanish-speaker who was only in attendance to sign paperwork but had no plans to volunteer, was so inspired by what she learned while sitting in on her daughter's orientation that she joined our program along with her daughter, and now they are both volunteers." - Dallas Animal Services

    "We do get in Spanish-speaking members of the community, but it is not an everyday occurrence. When we were in the hiring process, we had only one candidate who was Spanish-speaking. As with a number of our candidates, this individual had a lovely interview and did well. At the end of her interview as we were walking her out the door, surreptitiously a Spanish-only speaking couple walked in the door because they needed to have their dog bite quarantined. They had been given limited information from the officer that gave them the citation and having our office candidate on-site to translate on the spot, totally off the cuff was a blessing and a great example of the importance of having languages as a resource. After she finished with them, we hired her on the spot." - Humane Society of Jefferson County

    Do you have any tips, advice or additional resources to help with translation services? Share them in the comments below!


    Charlotte Otero
    Community Strategist at Maddie's Fund