¿Hablamos Español? How a Spanish-language microsite can better serve our nation’s diversifying population

Accurate website translations ease college access for ESL students and families
By: and | October 9, 2019

Matthew Poslusny is the Senior Vice President and Provost of Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. Kristi Eaves-McLennan is Vice President for Marketing and Communications at Meredith.

Imagine that moment when a college-bound high schooler finds your institution’s website. You’re likely picturing her excitedly showing it to her parents. But if her parents aren’t fluent in English, she’ll have to translate complicated admissions and financial aid information while also conveying her desire to attend.

According to CNN, 13.4% of the U.S. population speaks Spanish at home. We’ve certainly noticed growing diversity here at Meredith College where 10% of the incoming class for fall 2018 identified as Hispanic. This fall, 12.5% of the incoming class identified as Hispanic, and many come from families who speak Spanish at home.

To better serve this growing demographic, Meredith has embarked on the translation of key portions of our website.

Here, we share our tips for a successful translation process.

Don’t depend on machine translation

Our idea for a Spanish-language microsite wasn’t new when we had it back in June 2018, but we realized if we were going to follow through, it would go against our institutional values to take the shortcut of machine translation that’s so commonly used for sites originally built in English.

Financial aid information is already hard to understand and putting it through machine translation only further confuses the details. We were chagrined to find that our initial machine translation attempt led our site to tout our many military officers. We realized then we needed a human touch not only to translate “major” correctly but to convey our commitment to serving Hispanic students and their families. So we tapped into our on-campus talent and asked faculty and students in our world languages department to take up the task of translation for us.

Translate the right content

It’s not our goal to translate our entire website, but to focus on the information that will be most useful to prospective students and their families. We started with admissions requirements, scholarship information, a welcome message from our president and a selection of our admissions blog posts. We want to avoid giving the impression that a firm command of English isn’t required to be successful at Meredith College, and our student translators are helping us maintain that balance.

We were chagrined to find that our machine translation attempt led our site to tout our many military officers. We realized then we needed a human touch to translate “major” correctly.

When students suggested we translate our inclement weather policies and emergency procedures, we questioned whether we would then also need to offer all of our communiqués in the event of inclement weather or an emergency in Spanish as well. Our students assured us they know to communicate those messages to their families on their own, but that it was valuable for families of prospects to see our commitment to the safety of our students.

After the full microsite went live in May 2019, we took note of what pages got the most traffic. The most visited pages so far are those offering functional information. This data is informing our decisions of what to translate next, which will include our virtual tour as well as additional relevant admissions blog posts. Our students are even working on translating a short video – a project that requires its own specialized skillset.

Authenticity is key

In addition to working with a Spanish translation class, we created a student internship position to do much of the work and enlisted the help of faculty to review the intern’s efforts. Our first intern was a native speaker of Spanish who had taken the translation course. She graduated at the end of the spring 2019 semester and landed a job in the translation field thanks in part to the experience she gained while working on campus. Her successor in the position is another native speaker. We’ve found in our students a vital ability to enliven their translations with a tone that resonates with the microsite’s audience.

As we continue translating selections from our existing website, our student consultants have also pointed out that we need to create new content that speaks specifically to a Spanish-speaking audience. For example, we’ve added a glossary of offices and student support services available on campus. We’re also currently working on an FAQ of more specific questions about student support services, filling out the FAFSA, on-campus programming, and similar information.

Our current intern will move on to maintenance of the existing content on the microsite later this semester, which will present its own challenges. Maintaining both our existing site and the microsite in the long term will be our next adventure.

To communicate successfully and embrace speakers of the second most spoken language in the country right now, colleges and universities have a responsibility to serve this growing population with the same care and attention we give to the English-only speaking population.

Matthew Poslusny is the senior vice president and provost of Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. Kristi Eaves-McLennan is vice president for marketing and communications at Meredith.