The following article is from the November 2021 issue of With Us magazine and reposted on our blog with permission from editor-in-chief Sue Muller.

Sonia Sanchez Moreno is the founder of Sylaba Translations.

As someone who has experienced her plain language training firsthand, I can tell you that her passion for effective, culturally appropriate and inclusive communication shines through every step of the way. She has a wonderful, practical, clear and actionable style which is backed up with her extensive experience as a veteran of scoping, planning, and executing multilingual translation projects to help organisations build relationships with their audience.

A bright ray of light in the translation space, we asked Sonia to tell us a bit more about herself and why her work is so important. She also shares some great tips and information for organisations to consider when developing accessible and culturally appropriate communications and translation for the community.

Tell us a little bit about your story, and how you came to founding Sylaba.

I came to Australia in 2014 with 6 years of translation-specific studies under my belt and the experience of having migrated twice and the challenges and learnings that came with that.

After working in the community translations industry for about 3 years, I realised the industry was missing empathy, human touch, and translation theory in equal parts.

I realised that providers in Australia tend to focus on word counts and turning projects around as quickly as possible. Not really caring about the impact their work has in migrant and refugee communities.

Sylaba was born from an effort to do the right thing. Translations are expensive enough to not be done effectively. And for them to be effective, we need to put the community at the center of the process. That means questioning how the English is written, whether it’s accessible, culturally appropriate and even respectful of a given cultural group or religious belief.

What about your why – what makes you so passionate about the work that you do?

Knowing that somewhere in Australia, someone might pick up a fax sheet today and feel cared for. For people in situations of stress to feel that someone somewhere produced a resource that is helping them feel better about the journey ahead of them: whether it’s a cancer diagnosis, a child with autism or a spouse with dementia.

Migrating and being far away from family and friends is hard enough.

Is there a project, a body of work or a personal achievement that you’re most proud of?

I am fortunate enough to have been involved in quite amazing projects since the originals of Sylaba. If I was the name just one, it would be the work that I did with the Australian LGBTIQ Multicultural Council with their very first translation project.

Translating LGBTIQA+ information is a very complex process as it’s a highly sensitive topic very much linked to religion and deep cultural beliefs. So, we had to do a lot of groundwork to come up with translations that were culturally appropriate and yet respectful of the LGBTIQA+ communities we were trying to reach.

I love the description of your approach around supporting organisations to build relationships with their audiences. Why is this so important and what changes when organisations start to see the value of this?

I am a strong believer in translations as a means to an end rather than the end self. The difference between translating to tick a box and translating to communicate.

And organisations really care about their audiences genuinely understanding what they are trying to communicate, that’s when they realise that for the community to listen it’s important to build a level of trust. Because migrant and refugee communities bring with them a long history of distrust of government and public service cost by corruption, war, persecution…

When an organisation realises that for their audience to understand, they have to be the ones doing the understanding first, that’s when the magic happens.  When that relationship of trust is built, that’s when organisations start to learn enough to communicate with people in the language people need to hear to be receptive. And not the other way around.

What do you wish orgs/government/services would understand it comes to creating their campaigns, products and resources?

CALD communities or not all the same. Each community is different. I often see two parallel campaigns: one for mainstream Australians and another one for CALD communities. Effectively, that just means that a Greek family that has been here for 14 years will be approached in the same way as a Burmese family will just settled in Australia.

I also wish there was a wider understanding of plain language and how important it is as a foundation to anything produced with public money. I am sick and tired of getting ATO letters that I can’t understand. Because if I don’t… What does a newly arrived refugee have?

What are the key considerations they should make before the even begin?

Understand your community. Take the time to talk to them, understand their literacy levels, their existing knowledge, and the potential cultural barriers that might clash with the information you are trying to present to them. And be strategic about it all. Really, all I want is for organisations to genuinely care. Because if the care, they’ll do the right thing.

What are the main barriers that people who are multilingual experience when trying to navigate mainstream communications? What are the basics that make it easier?

Trust, culture, systems, language.

Clear communication (plain language) goes along way, whether it’s spoken or written. Seeking help can be a big step when you are newly arrived and have a new social sports. If the help you get doesn’t align with your literacy levels or existing knowledge, it’s completely useless. This experience can be a barrier in itself.

Are there any great articles, resources or sources of information that our readers should know about? (especially any that you have developed or been a part of)

  • Translation Strategy Webinar – This webinar explains how organisations can get started with her first and station project.
  • Free Plain Language Email Course – A 10-day course where you’ll receive an email every day with an easy- to-implement plain language technique.

With Us and The Better Together Collective is all about showcasing the value of working with community. It’s about recognising the difference possible when we choose to co-develop, co-produce, and involve real people throughout. Can you tell us what (and who) your community review process involves and how it changes outcomes and lives?

Add Celava, we enable translator so not only be linguists but also act as cultural bridges. We give them a voice and consult with them on the cultural appropriateness of an English test before it gets translated. With then involve interpreters or community representatives to provide feedback on the clarity of the translations prepared with the translators.

By following this process, we can be sure that whatever we translate has been reviewed by members of the community and everybody involved can guarantee that the translations are clear and respectful.

What are your hopes for the future of translating and for Sylaba?

I hope that more education is provided to organisations so they are better informed and can make better decisions when it comes to translating content. I hope for syllable to continue to be a viable business so me and my team can keep influencing the industry.

Is there anyone that really inspires you in the space?

I have been lucky to meet and learn from great professionals whose values and work align very much with mine. For example, Carolina Valencia-Coleman (CVC Social Justice Consulting) and Budi Sudarto (Ananda Training and Consultancy).


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About the Author: Sonia Sanchez
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