Communicating Science to Spanish Speakers: Takeaways from the July meeting of the SANDSWA Social Justice in Science Writing club

By Monica May

Aaron Burden/Unsplash

Mario Aguilera was scrolling through Twitter when a post caught his eye. UC San Diego biologist Fabian Rivera-Chávez, Ph.D., had co-written an article in Spanish for the LA Times with the goal of encouraging vaccination in the Hispanic community. Aguilera, the director of strategic communications for UC San Diego’s Division of Biological Sciences, immediately recognized the importance of the story and followed up with Rivera-Chávez.

That Tweet ultimately became a Q&A–also written in Spanish and English–titled “A Push to Inoculate Vaccination Disparity” or “Un Empuje Para Disminuir la Disparidad en la Vacunación.” Aguilera kindly joined the July meeting of the SANDSWA Social Justice in Science Writing club to share more about the translation process, resulting in a robust discussion about communicating science to audiences who speak Spanish and other languages. Highlights are below:

  • On the translation process: Copy was translated first by the scientist, then reviewed by native Spanish speakers who work at different Departments at UC San Diego. However, many nuances during this process were uncovered, including:  
    • The draft needed to be in lay-level Spanish and retain factual accuracy, which both require specialized training.   
    • This process was quite time intensive, and required unpaid labor by Spanish speakers.
    • Copy should adhere to AP style, which also requires specialized training.
  • Our primary takeaway: A trained expert who is knowledgeable in Spanish and scientific terminology is the ideal resource for this project. Ideally this person is on staff and can provide this service rapidly. A medical translator or a bilingual science reporter may be the right individuals to involve in this type of project. Club members are reaching out to their networks to see if this expertise can be arranged. If you have suggestions or leads, please contact monmay6@gmail.com
  • Why communicating science to Spanish speakers is essential: In San Diego, nearly a third of the population speaks Spanish, and nearly 40 million people in the United States speak the language. Not translating information about scientific breakthroughs, clinical trials and other scientific communications into Spanish–and other languages–means this audience isn’t being served with meaningful information.
  • Additional recommendations: 
    • Expand this approach to additional languages. In San Diego, Tagalog,  Mandarin and Cantonese are languages commonly spoken at home, in addition to Spanish.
    • Craft separate Tweets written in Spanish and English, and customize the image and message for each audience. UC San Diego’s Moores Cancer Center recently shared Tweets in Spanish and Vietnamese that encourage HPV vaccination. 

The SANDSWA Social Justice in Science Writing club is a once-a-month gathering where we listen, learn and support each other as we strive to make science writing more equitable and just. Join us at our next meeting on Wednesday, August 25, from 6-7 pm PT, which will center on the Northwest Science Writers Association’s video “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Science Storytelling,” featuring Michaeleen Doucleff, correspondent for NPR’s Science Desk; Isolde Raftery, online managing editor at KUOW; Monica Samayoa, reporter for OPB’s Environment & Science unit; and Jane C. Hu, Seattle-based freelance writer.

Register today (must be a SANDSWA member): https://bit.ly/3rOEgd1. If you have any speaker or resource suggestions, contact Monica May (she/her) at monmay6@gmail.com

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