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The image of a prescription drug shows the following Spanish-English translation. “Best if used by date shown on end of can”

Translation: “Mejor de ser usado durante la fecha por el final del puede”

Our Comment: What is this?

And below it gets even funnier. “Store in cool dry place”

Translation: “Tienda en un lugar Chulo, Seco”

Our Comment: “Chulo” means pimp in Spanish

To anyone who has some command of the Spanish-language, these translations do not make any sense. They devalue the Spanish-language and the audience who is supposed to understand it (or not). Unfortunately, bad, horrible, translations are often more the rule than the exception in the U.S. Hispanic market. And not just on prescription drugs but on PSA's, street signage, advertising and media content. These recurrent mistakes go against the credibility of the U.S. Hispanic marketing, content and media industries.We are not saying that U.S. Hispanics should talk exactly like Spaniards, Argentineans or Mexicans. As some of our Linked In Group members say there is no “neutral Spanish” either.

Language is fluent, even democratic; a certain integration of English vocabulary and grammar into the Spanish spoken in the U.S. has to be welcomed. Translation is not a rocket science. As the Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1996) pointed out, translation is based on emphasis and omission. But before going that deep, to translate the directions of a prescription drug, is just about doing a good translation job.

The richness of the Spanish language and culture has to be preserved by doing a better translation work. As members of the U.S. Hispanic advertising, content and media industries we have the responsibility to do much better.

What do you think?

Below are some responses as posted in English and Spanish by members of Portada's Linked In Group from all over the U.S. and the Latin world.

JANINE LIBBEY, P & L Translations, Partner, Greater Nashville, TN

“This was not translated by a human. In what was probably an attempt to cut costs, the manufacturer used a free, on-line translation service. All marketers need to be aware of the potential risks and liability if their products are used incorrectly because of their shoddy translations.”

MAYRAH ROCAFORT-MERCADO, Principal at Hispanic DM Solutions, San Antonio, TX

“This translation is obviously not the result of human intellect, rather the use of an online translating program that, once completed, was not reviewed by an individual with knowledge of the Spanish language.

Beyond “chulo,” it also used the word “tienda” for “store”- rather than “almacene” en un lugar seco, “conserve” en un lugar seco, or “guarde” en un lugar seco. My first choice: “conserve” en un lugar seco.”

LYDIA AGUIRRE, Adjunta a la Dirección en El País, España, Madrid, Spain

“Mayrah, your translation is very good. I would say 'conserve en un lugar seco' too. I think those translations are the results of using robots instead of real people to do the job. Nobody could translate this 'cool' as 'chulo'. Not in Spain, not in all Latin America (I'm Spaniard)””I wonder why (some) Hispanic people in the US still patronize companies that show so little interest in taking care of their Spanish-spoken potential customers.And please forgive my English. I'm sure I make many mistakes but at least I'm not a translator…”

MARCELO SALUP, Principal at MS Group LLC, Miami, FL

“That's too easy. Price. A seminal study published in the Journal of Advertising Research about 8 years ago (how time flies) showed that about 64% of all consumers bought a brand the second time less than 10% of the time. This was a single-source research of over 2,400 consumers, which is a big sample. These people, “low loyalists” as the study called them, switched mainly on price. So, most people, I'd say easily 70 to 75% of all consumers today, make decisions based on price alone or on value (a bit higher price, but I get a lot more). In the words of an old-timer copywriter: the loyalty of a housewive can be bought with a $0.25 coupon.”

CARL KRAVETZ, Publisher at Vida Y Salud, Los Angeles, CA

“Most pharma companies are terrified of going into Spanish-language advertising for fear of making mistakes and opening themselves up to legal liability. If this is the best they can do they're right to be scared! As they look to target Spanish-dominant consumers, rule #1 should be: Get a native Spanish-speaker in your legal department!”

J. GERARDO LÓPEZ, Latino Media and Community expert, Los Angeles, CA

“Creo que si alguien se toma la molestia de comunicarse con la comunidad latina en español, debe hacerlo correctamente. Los medios muchas traducciones literales del inglés. Eso insulta.”

RAFAEL HERNANDEZ, Partner at Hispanic Marketing Insights, LLC, Cincinnati, OH

“I think poor translations (and there are plenty of) in any language coming from a business entity show the lack of commitment, interest and respect to try to communicate well with the audience they are trying to reach.”


“@Rafael Hernández – Couldn't agree with you more.Many years ago, I received a bilingual direct mail package so full of Spanish language grammar errors that I proceeded to “red ink” all of them and sent them back to the company with an admonition that, if they intended to “court” me as a Hispanic, they ought to have been serious about, and committed to, the effort.”

ENRIC CID, Business Incubation Manager en Netquest, Sao Paulo, Brazil

“Chulo means: Lindo, bonito, gracioso ( Chulo as Pimp is slang.

Cool (Excellent, Nice, etc.) = Chulo”.


The Table “Mags, Where they have been, are and will be” published on page 33 of the last Portada issue (“Year 9, Number 42, Second Quarter 2011) contains two errors. The magazine published by Eclipse Marketing is not called Nexos but Nexos Latinos®. In addition the magazine's CPM is not $200 but $60.


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