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Spanish Translation Guide for Unemployment Insurance
Last updated: September 29, 2023
This Spanish translation guide provides practical guidelines and resources to help public servants improve Spanish translations for unemployment insurance (UI) content. Created through a partnership between U.S. Digital Response (USDR) and the New Jersey Department of Labor (NJDOL), this guide offers strategies and best practices for writing clear, inclusive Spanish tailored to the needs of UI claimants. Our goal is to increase accessibility and build trust with the over 20 million workers in the U.S. whose primary language is Spanish.
This guide was created to help workforce agency administrators and staff produce high-quality Spanish translations for all forms of communication with Spanish-speaking UI claimants. While the guide focuses primarily on digital content, the tips also apply to print materials and verbal communication.
This guide is for anyone involved in or interested in improving the user experience for Spanish-speaking claimants through plain language communication. You might use this guide if you are an adjudicator, call center agent, communications administrator, compliance officer, content administrator, designer, developer, educator, legal aid provider, policy administrator, researcher, social worker, translator, or in a role focused on accessibility.
Unemployment insurance systems are often difficult to navigate, with content written in legalese that is difficult for the average claimant to understand. For claimants whose primary language is not English, this challenge can feel insurmountable without proper translation support.
The need for improving the quality of Spanish translations is clear when looking at key challenges:
- The United States has over 42 million Spanish speakers from diverse regions, each with distinct vocabularies. Most existing Spanish translations do not reflect this diversity and may exclude many Spanish speakers.
- Translations of public-facing government services are often not plain or simple.
- Translations tend to have errors, either from a lack of native speakers or reliance on unchecked machine translation.
- Unclear wording can lead to people providing incomplete or incorrect information. This results in delayed benefits, denials, or even repayment directives for benefits they qualify for.
- Poor translations decrease user satisfaction and trust while increasing disparities in benefits access.
This guide was created using an inclusive, human-centered design process. We focused on uplifting and learning from Spanish-speaking communities by conducting usability testing with a diverse group of native Spanish speakers to develop translations for a new UI claimant intake form. The insights from this research, along with expertise from the NJDOL's bilingual call center team, directly informed the recommendations in this guide.
Our goal is to improve UI communications and better serve Spanish-speaking workers. In pursuing this goal, we grappled with some key questions: What happens when plain English is translated into another language? How do we maintain a human-centered approach and achieve human-centered results across different cultures and vocabularies? How is equity expressed?
Translation inherently involves conversion—a complex shift. This approach views translation not just as word conversion, but as an opportunity to enrich our understanding of claimants’ lived experiences. By putting inclusive design into action and centering Spanish-speaking users, we aim to increase access, build trust, and advance equity in public services. The strategies in this guide provide ways to effectively translate plain English into plain Spanish, converting “the plain” to “lo simple.”