More than a Heritage Month: Driving Success through Bilingual Communications

Vector flat line translation design concept of big modern people, holding smartphone with word Hello in spanish.

Amid a cacophony of voices, viewpoints and politics, one commonality stands out: todo esta en inglés (everything is in English).

Despite Spanish being the native tongue of more than 41 million Americans and the second-most spoken language in the United States, it is often an afterthought, relegated to Hispanic Heritage Month or Cinco de Mayo. In the realm of public affairs, recognizing and harnessing the power of Spanish language communications is more than a good idea; it is crucial for the success of any campaign.

Take my story as an example; I became a ‘professional’ translator at the age of nine when my parents moved to the United States from Cuba not knowing a word of English. I remember being a little girl having to translate government documents and speak to customer service representatives who did not have a line for Spanish speakers.

Since then, a lot of my life has revolved around ensuring that my parents live in a world they can understand. As a communications professional, I have made it my mission to ensure Spanish-speaking communities have access to information they can comprehend.

While I had the privilege of arriving to this country at the ideal age to adopt a new language, many immigrants who play a crucial role in the greatness of this nation were not afforded that same opportunity. So, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to truly foster a sense of inclusivity and equity by building and expanding bilingual communications into our practice.

While our Hispanic neighbors carry their distinct identities and interests, their everyday lives are built around the same concerns and needs as citizens of every other background: taking care of their families and communities. Kitchen table issues are often the backbone of any campaign, so start there and tailor the messaging to speak to the millions of Cuban, Mexican, Salvadoran, Colombian, etc.… Americans living next door.

Imagine the missed impact of a policy initiative that addresses pressing community issues but is communicated solely in English. Translation apps may seem like an option, but more often than not the message is lost in translation, leaving a significant portion of the population confused, disengaged and uninformed. Language is not merely a vessel for words; it carries cultural nuances, historical contexts, and emotional resonances that shape the way we perceive and respond to information.

Cultural Context is More than Translation

Effective communication transcends language barriers; it requires a deep understanding of the cultural context. This understanding is the bedrock of any successful communications effort, Spanish-speaking or not. Public affairs professionals must invest time in learning about the values, traditions, and sensibilities of the Hispanic community. Cultural competence demonstrates respect, builds trust, and paves the way for meaningful engagement.

To do this well, organizations must integrate bilingual staff or consultants into their public affairs teams. These individuals not only bridge the language gap but also offer insights into cultural nuances that can significantly impact messaging and outreach strategies. Relying on their expertise to help craft the right message requires a tailored approach. Translate more than just words; translate the essence of the message and understand the specific concerns and aspirations of the community and weave them into the narrative.

Of course, a perfectly crafted narrative means nothing if no one sees it, but more than 70 percent of the Hispanic community is online, which means inclusive campaigns will be there, too, specifically, on Facebook and YouTube more than anywhere else.

Build a digital presence that focuses on these platforms but do not discount informative websites and advocacy tools. These platforms not only disseminate information but also invite active participation and feedback.

That participation is key: effective communication is a two-way street. So consider upping the effectiveness of campaigns through town hall meetings, focus groups and community forums. These grassroots efforts create spaces for dialogue, allowing policymakers to gain firsthand insights and build trust. Alliances with community organizations, advocacy groups, and media outlets that serve the Hispanic population can also be a way to boost engagement and extend the reach of your communications.

Effective communication isn't just about conveying information; it's about fostering a sense of belonging, empowerment and shared progress. Why limit success to 78 percent of the U.S. population, when you can reach an additional 14 percent with a little cultural sensitivity?

America is built on diversity; so too should our approach to communications. Spanish language communications in public affairs is not just about words– it is about bridging cultures and embracing the potential for exponentially greater impact.


Laura Hernandez-Smith is an account director at ROKK Solutions.