Bridging the Language Divide

As the economy globalizes, companies want to make sure that their message is clear—whether their customers are in Beijing or Baden-Baden.

Annette Taddeo, founder of LanguageSpeak, is helping organizations do just that. Staffed by a skilled team of translators and editors, her company translates written content, helps with video projects, and conducts real-time phone and meeting interpretation (with oral translation available in more than 240 languages). Taddeo’s clients range from corporations such as ING Financial Services and United Healthcare to the federal government.

Diversity Woman talked with Annette Taddeo about her burgeoning translation business.

Diversity Woman: What drew you into the translation business?

Annette Taddeo: In college [at the University of North Alabama], I started translating for the Tennessee Valley Authority, and there was a lot of chemistry and science, so it was not something that just anybody who was bilingual could do. I had to do a significant amount of research. In the process, I realized that while there were a lot of translation firms, there was a niche for specialized translation, especially for regulated industries.

DW: How did your background as a Latina influence you as you entered this field?

AT: It gave me part of my drive. When I was in college, I ran for student government secretary. On the day of the election, I woke up and found out that on the poster that said “Annette Taddeo for Secretary,” the word “Secretary” had been crossed out, and it said “Annette Taddeo for Deportation.”

That experience didn’t make me bitter or make me want to retreat. It made me want to succeed even more. It made me want to educate people about Hispanics and about difference. I used being bilingual to my advantage. I have a four-year-old now, and I’m making sure she’s bilingual.

DW: Why is translation a good business to be in?

AT:  Translation is not something that can be done with a computer, no matter how advanced we get. Computers use formula-driven technology, but language is not something that can be handled with a formula. The human brain figures out what the meaning of language is.

Google Translate is awesome for figuring out what the heck an e-mail says, but for really doing business, you would never allow anything to go out without being properly written in English, and it’s the same in other languages.

DW: Your company also helps clients with cultural understanding. Why is that important?

AT: When you’re trying to sell something, you have to understand the audience that you’re selling to. So much can be lost in translation.

None of our translations are literal, except for legal documents. With advertising, sometimes you have to ask, “What are they trying to say here?” You might have to come up with a whole new slogan to say the same thing, thinking about how it might be said in Spanish.

In the United States, we unfortunately do not study languages and therefore, in many instances, don’t have an understanding of other cultures. My goal is to help our clients understand their clientele. So often, companies try to save money on translation, but that can be a very costly mistake.

We back every one of our translations with an attestation of the accuracy of the piece and also with insurance. That’s one of the reasons we’re chosen by so many of the regulated industries.

DW: What is the key to a good translation?

AT: When you read the ad, or listen to the radio spot, or watch the TV commercial, you have no clue it was originally in English [or another original language]. It should not read or sound like a translation.

DW: How do you make sure that happens?

AT:  Each translation goes through many different hands—a translator, a proofreader, an editor—for review. Most of our translators have a degree and are also certified in translation.

DW: What is the most challenging job youíve ever gotten?

AT:  It was from the White House, during the [George W.] Bush administration. It was a Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting.

We bid for it, and initially didn’t get it because we weren’t the lowest bidder. I said, “I can’t do it for any less and still keep our good name and keep the type of interpreters we’re known for.” I really wanted it, but I walked away.

But two weeks before the event, they called and said, “We now realize that the other vendor is in over their head.” This was right before the event, and they needed 80 interpreters in three hotels. It was like building a mini-UN, with equipment. They were asking for the impossible. I had never done anything like that in a two-week period.

I had to fly in 80 interpreters and get them all security clearance. I jumped through so many hoops and had so many sleepless nights. We were translating everything that was said, in writing. There were tons of break-out sessions. My entire staff was working overtime.

Also, all of the streets were closed because there were protesters everywhere. I had to calm down the interpreters, because they were afraid there would be bombs.

It was a lot of work, and I just had to keep calm and keep everybody happy. It was definitely stressful, but it was also my pride and joy. We did a great job, and we’ve continued to do so. We’ve done many follow-up trade meetings.

DW: You offer language tutoring as well. What type of clients do you have?

AT: We teach Spanish to all the generals for the Southern Command of the Department of Defense, so as soon as they take over, they can do a good job directing the region. For people who travel extensively and can’t take a class, we can provide a private tutor. Everything’s very tailored to the specific company.

DW: At your company, what initiatives are you most proud of?

AT: I implemented not only a retirement plan, but a profit-sharing plan for my employees. I feel good about it, and I think more businesses should share with their employees. After all, you wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.

DW: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

AT: Just yesterday, I got an e-mail from a major corporation that we’ve done business with for seven years. Our contract is up in February. They said, “We’ve asked throughout the entire company, and nobody said anything but wonderful things about you, so we’re not even going to put the contract up for bid.” Seven years and no complaints. Everybody’s happy. That’s the kind of stuff that makes you proud.

DW: What advice would you give a woman thinking about starting her own business?

AT: Don’t be afraid. If you’re passionate about it, just do it. People will point out every “but” there is along the way. Don’t listen to all the “buts.” Just go for it.

It’s a tremendous amount of work. Oh, boy! When I hear women say, “I want to do this because I want to spend more time with my kids,” I think, “You’re in a wrong place. Get a 9-to-5 job if you want to spend more time with your kids.” In the beginning, you’re going to spend three times as much time if you start your own business. If there’s an emergency, you’re the one who’s going to get the call.

But if you’re passionate about something and you really believe in it, you can do anything. DW

Kimberly Olson is the DW managing editor.


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