City documents can get lost in translation, audit finds

To serve a diverse population, Glendale translates several documents — from police forms to community brochures — into multiple languages, but differing dialects and incorrect translations make some materials difficult to understand, according to an internal audit report.

Translations are currently done in a patchwork fashion, which could lead to grammatical and spelling mistakes, officials found.

Some departments rely on internal staff or local church leaders to lend a hand in translating documents into Armenian, Spanish and Korean, the most commonly used secondary languages. Others hire outside translators to do the job, said city spokesman Tom Lorenz.

“We need to do something that is consistent, that is acceptable,” Lorenz said.

Glendale is about 27% Armenian, 17% Latino and 5% Korean. The biggest challenge tends to be Armenian translations due to differing dialects.

Eastern and Western dialects of Armenian are both spoken in Glendale, but Eastern is more popular, Armenian community leaders said. Those who come from Armenia or Iran often speak the Eastern dialect, while others with ties to Turkey and Beirut speak Western.

Among those who speak the Eastern dialect, some use Russian words or different spellings, said Vazken Madenlian, principal of the Chamlian Armenian School in Glendale.

“I sometimes see fliers that come from the city and I understand them, but it’s very, very bad Armenian,” he said, adding that he thinks Russian words shouldn’t be thrown in when there’s an Armenian alternative.

The audit report, released last month, was based on interviews with city officials, not a review of translated documents, so specific examples of mistakes were not available.

Elen Asatryan, executive director of the Armenian National Committee Glendale chapter, said translation problems are well known, but don’t always rise to formal complaints.

“You’re reading it and you think, ‘Who translated this?’” she said.

However, not all the city’s translations have problems, Asatryan said. She pointed to last year’s translation of election information as one of the best Armenian translations of a government document she’s seen.

City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian said after an outside translator converted the document, his department went over it with a fine-tooth comb.

“It’s not easy. It takes a little bit of work,” he said.

According to the audit, the city is slated to craft translation guidelines and hire a firm for all translations by March 31.

“It should have been done a long time ago,” Asatryan said.

Lorenz said officials will likely look to the Glendale Unified School District and Glendale Adventist Medical Center for policy suggestions.

The school district has in-house translators and uses outside vendors to translate materials into 66 languages. All district translators must pass a written and oral exam in English and the foreign language, Asst. Superintendent Katherine Fundukian Thorossian said in an email.

In addition to a new translation policy, how the city prints materials is in need of a revamp to save money, according to the audit.

Currently, about $500,000 is divided up between city departments to spend on printing and graphics work, Lorenz said. That could be cut in half if all projects were funneled through the in-house graphics department, according to the report.

The city should make the switch by March 31, the report stated.

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World