The Associated Press made several overblown claims in a piece this week reporting that the Spanish-language Obamacare website was riddled with poor translations that made it difficult to navigate.
Among the problems the AP seized upon were “clunky” translations that appeared to be “computer generated” and plans that appeared to be “written in Spanglish.” Many media outlets — including Fusion — picked up the story, which became the latest sign of trouble for the problem-plagued website.
But language problems don’t make the website nearly impossible to navigate, like the story’s subjects say.
As one of its prime examples, the AP article rags on the name of the site itself, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, “which can literally be read ‘for the caution of health.’” The authors of the article, however, are falling into the same trap that they are accusing the government of falling into — translating incorrectly.
When translating from English to Spanish, or vice versa, the words and their order can change to accommodate an accurate translation. Yes, cuidado, can mean “caution,” but it can also mean “to take care of,” which is the case with the website’s name. The phrase, as it relates to healthcare, can be found in other media reports, like this one that Miami’s El Nuevo Herald published today.
Veronica Plaza, a professor of medical Spanish at the University of New Mexico takes issue with the the site’s usage of the word prima, which is translated from the word “premium.” This might cause confusion for some Spanish speakers, she told the AP, because prima is widely known as a term for “female cousin.”
But the word also means “insurance cost,” and it’s difficult to imagine users thinking prima would apply to a female cousin when reading it on an insurance exchange website.
That’s not to say the website’s translations are without problems. There are a few awkward phrases that could cause some confusion for users.
For instance, some security-question options during the sign-up phase are unclear.
The highlighted line in the drop down below states, ¿Cuál es el número de teléfono de un familiar que no es el suyo? The question is trying to ask for a family member’s number who has a different phone number than yours, but instead it sounds like it’s asking for a phone number of a family member that isn’t yours.
Another option states, ¿Cuál es el nombre de su amigo favorito de la infancia? This question would translate to, “What’s the name of your favorite childhood friend?” It should be asking for your “childhood best friend.” Here the website is using the wrong Spanish term; it should be using mejor amigo, not amigo favorito.
But these small mishaps aren’t prevalent throughout the website and wouldn’t necessarily prevent a successful sign up. They’re not, as one healthcare navigator told the AP, “Spanglish,” which are words that combine elements of both English and Spanish.
An example of Spanglish would be clickear, which derives from the English verb “to click.” Nothing that glaring appears on CuidadoDeSalud.gov.
As for the claim, made by Plaza, that the translations appeared “computer generated”? That’s not true, according to the White House. An aide told BuzzFeed that human translators from the federal government and private contractors developed the language for the site.
The website still faces many technical problems. The AP pointed out that one link led users to an English-language form. The translators could also do a better job refining the language they use. And let’s not forget, CuidadoDeSalud.gov rolled out two months later than expected.
But site’s language isn’t incomprehensible and it should not result in mass confusion for Spanish speakers.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.