Editor’s Note: ‘It may mean something completely different’
Aside from knowing an embarrassingly small number of Spanish words and phrases, a few pleasantries in German (which I took in high school and barely remember), and some Polish swear words (my grandma and great-aunts were pretty salty), English is my only language.
When I’m searching for the latest safety research, I sometimes find myself on websites that are in French, Japanese and other languages. And the Safety+Health website occasionally receives comments from Spanish-speaking readers.
For the reader comments, I can rely on Isi Hernandez, S+H’s advertising sales support coordinator, to make sure I understand what’s being said. Isi has always been kind about helping me out. Regarding research, some websites I look at feature a button I can click to read the news in English. For those that don’t, I turn to Google Translate to get the gist.
But it goes without saying that when communicating about safety in workplaces in which employees speak different languages, the stakes are much higher. This month in S+H, Juan Zuniga, a worker/trainer in the United Steelworkers’ environmental, health and safety department, offers words of caution to any safety pro who uses Google Translate to speak with – and develop training and materials for – workers whose primary language isn’t English.
Zuniga and other experts who spoke with S+H Associate Editor Kevin Druley stress the importance of taking workers’ cultural backgrounds into account. “One word in my culture may mean one thing, but even to someone who speaks the same language, it may mean something completely different,” Zuniga said.
Check out their advice. As always, we’d love to hear what you think.