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JCWP 2004


Language Barriers Not Insurmountable Thanks to Translators

A translator discusses construction with another volunteer at his house.

On the street of the work site I saw two volunteers meet. One was from the United States, the other from Mexico. The Mexican volunteer asked the U.S. volunteer a question in English. They talked in English for a few minutes, and then the U.S. volunteer said, "Will you do me a favor? I'm trying to work on my Spanish, so will you ask me things in Spanish first, and if I don't understand, then ask me in English?"

Many of the U.S. representatives at this year's JCWP—myself included—have felt that way this week, I think. I have enjoyed having bits of my Spanish classes from school come back to me (I even dreamed in Spanish one night!). I just hope I haven't miscommunicated with anyone too badly!

Thankfully, the JCWP work site has been blessed this week with dedicated translators to ensure clear communication for all. The majority of the translation volunteers have been university students, most of whom had not heard of Habitat for Humanity before. They agree, though, that they know a lot now!

Though they have worked very hard, the translators agree this has been a great experience. "The most fun thing has been the interaction between all of the members of the house team," says Gabriel Betancourt Salinas, translator for House #69.

Mariana Chumacero, translator for House #14 agrees: "It's been fun meeting all the people…. You never stop learning, you know?"

Blue vests designate the translators at the Jimmy Carter Work Project in Mexico.

The most difficult part of the week, the translators agree, has been figuring out some of the technical construction terms that are not typical conversation in either language. Gabriel says that he has "used signs" and demonstrated what needed to be done on the site. Alejandro Hammeken Arana, translator for House #13, says he has "explained things in other words" until everyone understood.

The main thing all of the translators emphasize is that the language barrier has not been a big problem. "Everything is good, everything is positive," says Laura Gonzalez Aragon, translator for House #5. "There are no frustrations."

"If anything has been a problem," Mariana jokes, "it's that I am speaking to my Spanish-speaking friends in English! [We translators] are so involved in this project, we can't stop. We're speaking 'Spanglish!'"

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