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‘A bad translation’: How Broward botched the Spanish version of school tax question

By Lisa J. Huriash and Yvonne H. Valdez - South Florida Sun Sentinel Aug 10, 2022 at 5:20 pm

Read the whole article here:

As published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel:


An inaccurate Spanish translation of a proposed School Board tax that’s already on Broward’s ballot is now raising concerns whether it could affect how people vote on the issue.

Broward voters head to the polls for early voting Saturday — but more than 64,000 voters have already sent in their vote-by-mail ballots by Wednesday afternoon. In addition to state races, local judges, School Board members and county commissioners, voters are also being asked to agree to double a special school tax.

[...] Some experts say there are three key misinterpretations from the English-to-Spanish versions, which some voters rely on to make a decision.

“It is a bad translation,” said Anel Brandl, a Ph.D. and professor of Spanish and Linguistics at Florida State University. “I have a degree and I didn’t know ‘mill.’ When you don’t know anything about taxes, you also read it as one million.”

Agreeing with that assessment is Marcela Arbelaez, CEO of Lingua Franca Translations, CEO of a translation company based in Coconut Grove, FL. She assessed the paragraph in question and explained how the sentence reads as if voters are approving an imposed “tax of a million.”

[...] “It doesn’t read well,” said Arbelaez of the Spanish version on the ballot. “If a Spanish speaker reads this, their brain will start doing waves, like a shock.” “That whole paragraph needs revision,” she said. “It is way too literal, and it doesn’t convey in Spanish the exact meaning of the original source language, English.”

[...] the Spanish version of the question translates “one mill” into “one million.” The Spanish version talks about how the money would pay for an administrative person who oversees resources, not for school police officers. And a part in Spanish that’s supposed to say “essential instruction” instead says “essential expenditures.”

Broward’s School District is asking voters to approve an increase from $50 per $100,000 in taxable property value that they pay now to $100 for every $100,000 on their yearly property tax bills. If approved, the tax would be used to increase teacher salaries, school security officers and mental health resources.

Our expert assessment for this interview:

The Spanish translation is too literal and has at least one major mistake:

The word one mill was translated as 1 million in Spanish. That single error is bad enough.

The definition of One Mill Property Tax Levy:

The mill levy is a property tax. It is applied to a property based on its assessed value. The rate of the tax is expressed in mills and is equal to one dollar per $1,000 dollars of assessed value

While Google Translate spouts the Spanish version of One Mill Property Tax Levy as impuesto de un millón, the actual translation of One Mill Property Tax Levy should actually read as Tasa Impositiva en Milésimos de Dólar and not as "imposición de un millón al impuesto...". Totally different meaning!

In our opinion and on behalf of Lingua Franca that specific paragraph needs a total revision. It is too literal, and it doesn't convey in Spanish the exact meaning of the original source language, English.

The widespread idea that just being bilingual, trying to perform a translator and/or using Google Translate as means to save money or save time is simply unprofessional. It also means it could also have impactful repercussions.

The rule of thumb for law firms, government officials and even corporate teams should be to maintain higher standards. Saving money for a skill that is evidently being undermined by ignorance evidently has clear repercussions at all levels. It is our duty to emphasize the importance of localization, legal translation and the role of a professional linguist in our society. This is a perfect example worth to highlight the role of the modern linguist.

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