City vows to fix translations

After years of The City translating public information for its non-English-language speakers into “gibberish,” Mayor Gavin Newsom announced Thursday a new plan for accurate translations.

In the past, The City has relied on a computer software program to translate information on its Web site, resulting in garbled information, according to Newsom.

“To my astonishment and my dismay, I saw what we were translating on our Web sites — complete gobbledygook, complete nonsense, gibberish, an embarrassment if ever there was one,” Newsom said.

Last year, Newsom established the Cultural Competency Task Force to solve the problem.

About 10 years ago, The City adopted an Equal Access Ordinance, promising to offer city information in a gamut of foreign languages.

“Ten years later we haven’t come close to doing what we need to do. We can do so much better,” said Phil Ting, city assessor-recorder and task force chairman.

The City operates more than 50,000 Web pages and receives more than 20,000 online visitors a day.

The language barrier could “deprive city residents of critical services,” according to a task force report released Thursday.

Clearly there is a demand for translated information in San Francisco. About 46 percent of city residents speak a language other than English, with 125,000 speaking Chinese at home. About 8 percent of The City’s residents have very limited, if any, English proficiency, according to the report.

Nine departments, including the Police Department and the Mayor’s Office, have climbed on board to begin accurately translating their Web site information.

A Department of Language Services will be established at City Hall, and information will be translated into Chinese and Spanish, Ting said, while acknowledging that even with these initial steps The City is still way behind.

The City has allocated $150,000 this year to fund the work, which may be used to contract with translation services, Ting said.

The city of Oakland, which is considered a leader in language services, spends $750,000 a year to provide translated information, according to Ting.

“Over the next three to six months you are going to see some translated pages,” Ting said.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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