As mentioned before… I speak virtually no Spanish.
Aside from being a bumbling American in a foreign country, I (and many other journalists) am expected to do the same caliber of work no matter where I am. So how can a journalist get close to a subject that doesn’t even speak the same language?
Of course we’ll have translators on the trip, but that brings up some concerns. The translator is speaking the language of my source. I could easily be made into a bump on the log while they converse. Or worse- my translator could be feeding me quotes interpreted in his/her own way.
A New York Times reader questioned the paper a while back about how its reporters in Iraq handled working with translators.
The foreign desk editor, Andrea Kannapell, responded with some of the journalists’ methods, such as:
1) Explaining to translators that they must stop frequently and explain what the subject is saying
2) Develop a good relationship with the translator
3) Ask questions twice to double check that the answers are the same
The reader also asked about the accuracy or even ethics of publishing a non-English speaker’s words in quotes, which given the common differences in translation, I definitely question this practice as well.
Naturally, language isn’t everything when composing a story. Body language and actions are the universal language.
Just in case-I’m also preparing myself in a crash course of Latino hand gestures before I tell someone to screw themselves when I meant everything’s A-OK!