The following article was published in Greeting Card Writer Magazine and in greetingcardwriter.com. It was also published in Writing World Magazine and in writing-world.com.
For the past 30 years, Susana Schultz has been a technical translator, writer and editor, and in that time she has created greeting-card lines for two major card companies. She is a native of Uruguay, a U.S. citizen and has lived in the US since 1976. Susana owns Strictly Spanish, a Spanish-language communications company. She was Managing Editor at Gibson Greetings for 8 years, and Associate Editor of El Hospital, a Spanish-language medical/trade journal, for over 7 years.
My start in greeting cards happened in 1988 when I saw an ad in the paper for a Spanish editor position with Gibson Greetings. I was Sales Manager at a local manufacturing company and I was looking for a change after 11 very stressful years in domestic and international sales. I was tired of traveling and needed and outlet for my creativity. Gibson was the ideal place to let my creativity go free. I became an integral part of a decision-making team that revolutionized the way Gibson was creating cards for the Spanish market in the U.S. The editorial was a fresh approach to a stale line.
They don't really and that was one of the hardest points to get across at the time because everyone thought Spanish cards had to be so different. You do have to be careful with some of the art imagery that can be construed as offensive. As far as the language, you have to use Castilian -or what's commonly known as "TV Spanish". It's a language devoid of colloquialisms, slang, etc. etc., because it would be as using U.S slang and selling it in England, or vice versa. Some things might be very offensive. I can think of many instances where non-multicultural translators translated complete ad campaigns for major companies without knowing that the word or words they had chosen were fine in the country where they were born but were very offensive in other countries. For example, in Uruguay, where I am from, when you are broke you say (slang): "Estoy pato o pata". In Puerto Rico, I would be saying: "I am gay". See what I mean?? The Raid campaign some years back used the slogan "Kill your bugs" and it was translated as "Mate sus bichos". Well, bicho is a slang word for penis in Mexico. So, the ad that was plastered on billboards all over Mexico City, was in fact saying: Kill your penis.
Most of the time direct translations do not work. Sentence structure is different in English and in Spanish. A literal translation would be awkward and just that, a literal translation that has failed to be an instrument of communication or of expression. If you have to stop and think about what it's saying, or detect errors, you lost the attention and the respect of that reader. In greeting cards we use what's called "transcreation". You get the idea from the English text and rewrite it in Spanish. Proofreading is as critical as writing. A wonderful, impeccable piece of writing can be destroyed by poor proofreading before the card is printed. It's happened many times. Especially when you are dealing with companies where Spanish greeting cards are a stepchild. The people in charge of production have no concept of what an error can do for the card, after all, it's not an English card that everyone at the company can tell it has an error, right?? So, I really can't emphasize enough the importance of insisting on proofing the cards yourself when you are freelancing. I do that all the time with other greeting card companies I freelance for, and it's worth it.
There is a very limited selection. I would like to see more people getting into the business. The Hispanic market in this country is the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population and it should be taken into consideration. It's an untapped market that needs to be addressed with respect for its language.
We shouldn't see much difference. Latins pretty much like the same stuff non-Latins like. This has been very evident in focus groups that I participated. The last focus group being in January 1999. We had an array of designs, and people like the same designs that people like in the non-Latin focus groups. I think good taste is universal and some art directors tend to think that art for Spanish cards has to be gaudy, with too much color, etc. etc. That is far from true. Pastels are the biggest sellers.
There are some holidays that Spanish lines tend to cover but there are mostly a marketing gimmick to sell lines to Anglo buyers. Those cards are VERY poor sellers: Epiphany or Three Kings Day is one that comes to mind. There is an event that is not covered in English that's a definite seller in Spanish and that's the 15th birthday for a girl. It's the coming of age. It's very celebrated and a definite card-giving occasion.
Absolutely not! A good Spanish-card writer or a good Spanish translator must be a native and bilingual. Not only bilingual, but multicultural to avoid having on the shelves and in the warehouse of the company thousands of cards of a product that no one will buy. If you think English is a complicated language to write correctly, think of Spanish as even more complicated. There's stuff a non-native will never comprehend, no matter how good he/she is with Spanish. I've been in the business for 30 years and I've encountered many, many non-natives who have incredible credentials but who cannot write a paragraph without an error.
Many, but the most important one is to make the Hispanic consumer feel important and valued by offering a great product, free of errors. Listen to the consumer, show the consumer that the Spanish line is not a stepchild, but a truly valuable part of that company's business. Don't do Spanish as an after thought, do it just as you do the English line. That advice, of course, is not directed at the freelancers but at the companies that produce the products.
American Greetings, Hallmark, Paper Magic, and some companies out of Hong Kong that manufacture musical cards.
Take pride in what you do and do the best you are capable of doing. Like with any other job, approach this as if you were writing in hopes of getting a Pulitzer Prize. You are touching lives, you are helping people express things they don't know how to express. A few years ago, I stood in front of Gibson's Spanish-card offering in Los Angeles and I started talking to the people who were buying my cards. When I asked for their opinion and told them that I had written those cards, they couldn't believe it! Their faces brightened up and started pulling cards and showing me things. "See, I sent this one to my brother. It's exactly what I feel about him. See, I sent that one to my aunt..." And so on. That was priceless. People do care. Those Hallmark commercials are for real! They also make those commercials in Spanish!!
Because of the lack of an abundance of people who understand the Hispanic market here and outside the U.S., I have been lucky because I've always gotten involved in the whole process, from art selection to writing. That's what I like most. Seeing a product that starts with a thought, become a tangible thing that's going to make someone smile-a smile I will never see.
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