The Spanish-Language Version of Is a Mess

The Spanish-Language Version of Is a Mess

The Spanish-Language Version of Is a Mess

It launched months late, loads slowly and is poorly translated.


Pocket, the Spanish-language version of, has launched at last, two months late. According to the Associated Press, the Spanish-language website is so confounding that it was either translated by a computer or former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“It’s written in Spanglish,” Adrian Madriz, a healthcare navigator who helps with enrollment in Miami, told the AP. Another navigator alleges that the Spanish-language website works less smoothly and takes a longer time to load.

Julio Varela, of the website Latino Rebels says that the site isn’t as bad as the AP lets on. “I think the website translation is mediocre, but it is readable, just like every other Spanish version of US government pages. I have read much worse and I have read much better.” I also looked through the website and found it awkward, but not incomprehensible. Translating “premium” as “prima” (which means “cousin” in most contexts) isn’t wrong, just odd.

The White House has denied that the website was automatically translated and said that it was “committed to ongoing improvements.” An official also said that the translation “does not affect your average Latino enrollee” because the average Latino reads at least some English.

This is not accurate, according to Dr. Jane Delgado, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, which runs a national hotline aimed at helping Latinos register for healthcare. “The language of insurance is new for people who are uninsured so it might be easier to for them to learn about it in a language they’re comfortable with,” she told BuzzFeed.

One-third of all uninsured people are Latino, according to the National Council of La Raza, and Latino children are two times more likely than white children to be uninsured. Yet few Latinos have enrolled in healthcare plans created by the Affordable Care Act. Bad translations aren’t the only cause: some uninsured legal immigrants are hesitant to apply for healthcare for fear that their undocumented family members might be deported as a result, even after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a memo assuring that it wouldn’t use healthcare data for those purposes.

As reported in Think Progress, this wouldn’t be the first time Latinos missed out on government benefits because of poor translations. In 2013, a state website that offered grants to rebuild New Jersey homes damaged in Hurricane Sandy provided inaccurate deadlines and hours of operations for Spanish-speaking applicants, prompting a lawsuit by the Latino Action Network. In Maricopa County, Arizona—home to Sheriff Arpaio—Spanish-language voter registration cards listed the wrong election date in 2012.

Last year, Arizona tried to pass a bill that would prohibit mailing government documents in languages other than English (except for those related to voting). Arizona and twenty-six other states have declared English their state’s official language, but the United States does not have an official language, yet its resources for Spanish-speakers are consistently inadequate, Varela says.

As he writes, “The opinions of just two or three people in one AP article really don’t speak to the bigger issue about all this: stop treating Spanish as a second-class language.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the National Council of La Raza as “La Raza.” The editors regret the error.

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