COVID-19 Response

OU Students Translate Vital Documents for Local Organizations

Independent study students meet online to provide translation services for the Hispanic Outreach Center

Screenshot of Google Hangouts session

Spanish Associate Professor Cecilia Saenz-Roby and independent study students Cristina Gamez (bottom center) and Stephany Luna meet virtually to discuss the translation of a document for the Hispanic Outreach Center.

Community Engagement

icon of a calendarMay 1, 2020

icon of a pencilBy Kristina Lindberg

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For years, OU students have been providing local nonprofits and governments the ability to create bi-lingual materials for their clients. In times of social distancing, Spanish Associate Professor Cecilia Saenz-Roby and her independent study students now meet virtually to ensure the translation of vital documents for local organizations and schools can continue.

“Before the cancellation of on-campus classes, students were able to discuss the process in person with me and we met to edit the documents,” Saenz-Roby says. “Now, we are communicating via email and teleconference.”

Saenz-Roby currently is working closely with two of her students to translate a 56-page manual for the family classes program for the Hispanic Outreach Center. Other Spanish students are also translating documents, letters and flyers for schools and organizations in the area.

In the family classes program, participants learn how to create a positive family life and control harmful feelings and behaviors, Saenz-Roby says. Attendees can voluntarily enroll, are referred or are mandated to take the program.

“Some participants, especially parents, have a novice level of English and are not able to use the English family classes kit,” Saenz-Roby explains.

The translation from English to Spanish will help attendees understand the program’s content.

Saenz-Roby says she incorporates academic service-learning components in her classes and offers students opportunities to participate in translation, tutoring and mentoring programs. She has worked with the Hispanic Outreach Center and school districts in Pontiac, Auburn Hills and Waterford since 2008 and offers translations, workshops, programs and ESL classes.

Just recently, Sonia Nieske, an ESL teacher at Pontiac High School, and Saenz-Roby initiated the launch of an online tutoring program for ESL students at the high school after in-person instruction was made impossible because of the COVID-19 health crisis.

“Some of the tutors are willing to dedicate three whole mornings to help students,” Saenz-Roby says. When it comes to translations, the process can be complex: A document undergoes numerous drafts to incorporate linguistically and culturally appropriate translations, then countless hours of revision before its completion. Her students submit work each week and she reviews and provides edits, and suggests different word choices and syntactical structures.

Not being able to meet in person has made the translation process much harder.

“We are doing our best to make the best of the situation and continue to be productive, effective and didactical,” she says. “I think the current situation is absorbing a lot of people’s thoughts and energy. I am proud of my students for taking things in stride and continuing to make progress on these projects so that we can submit them on schedule.”

Independent study student Cristina Gamez, a Spanish language and literature with a certificate in translation senior, has been working on translating the family classes manual since February.

Although not meeting in person has made the translation process more difficult, Gamez sees the benefit of continuing her work. The project is meaningful to her because she is helping the community and is “able to be a bridge between the two languages,” she says.

Gamez will continue the translation until its completion at the end of the semester, alongside Saenz-Roby and independent study student Stephany Luna, a psychology and Spanish language and literature sophomore.

Luna agrees with Gamez about the importance of the translation. “I think important documents should be in various languages ­­— not only legal documents,” Luna says. “When school documents are available in the student's family's native language, the family feels more included in their community and are more likely to be involved.”

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