Philip Auerbach

  Philip B. Auerbach


No hablo inglés. Je ne parle pas anglais. Yeong-eo-reul mothamnida.

Talking slower and louder simply isn’t the answer to the language gap that you are likely to find when you encounter one of the 72% of the world’s people who does not speak English as a primary language. That number represents millions of ethnic Latinos, Chinese, Russians, Vietnamese, Koreans, Hmong and others at home, as well as far more millions abroad.

Regardless of the population your organization serves, and the location in which you provide that service, language gaps are present. Your prospects often perceive that their inability to read or speak English [well] will prevent them from getting your services.

Language also becomes an extremely important issue for organizations that provide service in the international marketplace. While a growing number of people across the globe can read some English, a vast number are not comfortable reading English for comprehension. This becomes an issue when trying to distribute materials such as brochures, PowerPoint presentations, organizational websites, CDs, in conversations, etc.

The problem is real and it is important for nonprofit organizations to seek to bring service to all who make up their community, whether in their local area or across the globe. What will your organization do about it? How will you meet these very real needs of your community today and in the future?

Option 1. Find someone who can speak a language and hope that he or she can translate it. That may work when talking about the weather and other conversational topics. But for anything technical or professional, you need an equally professional linguist.

Option 2. Rely on software such as Google Translate. Software works for getting the gist of what an incoming foreign file says. But experienced users know that software can translate your message with comical or critically wrong results and those inaccuracies damage your reputation. For example, a high-end residential hotel in San Francisco stated, “We are located on Jones St. near the historic Flood Mansion.” Using software into French, this became, “We are located on Saint John near the historic great house against inundations.”

Option 3. Hire a full-service professional language agency. These agencies transcribe, translate, interpret, acculturate, do layouts, localize websites, produce CDs with dubbing or subtitles, and perform other services.

To deliver all these services in many languages and many subjects, agencies hire translators and interpreters who:

  • have professional training, usually at a Master’s level or its equivalent
  • have at least ten years of continual experience
  • work only into their native languages
  • know how to render equivalent concepts, not just words, in target languages. “Batting a thousand,” for example, should never be translated literally, and
  • speak the terminology of specific subjects: medicine, education, religion, job training, law, construction/housing, drug treatment, etc.

What are your organization’s needs? Organizations commonly need professional translation in two primary areas.

Layouts/Desktop Publishing. Brochures, PowerPoints and some manuals must often wrap translations around graphics. Common languages, such as French and Spanish, usually need 20% more words to express the same concepts as in English. German and Russian may require 10% more. If your English totally fills your pages, where are these extra words to go?

And if your translations go into Arabic, Chinese, Korean, etc., your in-house graphic artist probably has no clue what goes where. Full-service professional agencies’ multi-lingual layout artists have many ways to solve these and other challenges.

Interpreting (Spoken Communication). Conveying spoken concepts at meetings, conferences or trainings requires a higher-level skill. Interpreters must literally think on their feet as the presenter is speaking or when the presenter pauses. Professional language agencies know where to find qualified interpreters at home or abroad near the training location.

The world includes millions of limited-English speakers. Nonprofits can expand their reach by recognizing the language barriers present in their communities and seeking out professional language agencies to localize their offerings.


Philip B. Auerbach is President of Auerbach International Inc. (, 415.592.0042), a 25-year-old, full-service agency that serves clients nationwide and worldwide in over 80 common languages plus indigenous languages of Africa and Asia.

This article is reprinted from Issue #5 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!

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