This article was originally published in the May/June 1994 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.
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Home Energy Magazine Online May/June 1994
¿Como Se Dice Retrofitter?
by Kelley Griffin
Kelley Griffin is a former assistant editor of Home Energy.
This article, the third reprint in our tenth-anniversary series, is excerpted from the May/June '87 issue of Home Energy. With the continuing growth of the Spanish-speaking population, it is even more useful today.
Utility companies have always sought to present customer information about saving energy in plain English. In many regions, however, that has not been enough. With the Spanish-speaking community growing faster than any other minority group in the United States, and Spanish being the country's second most common language, more utilities are asking customers to conserve en Español, and many householders are now saying sí.
Reaching the Spanish-speaking community will become more and more of a priority of the industry as the population grows, said Alex Wilson of the Edison Electric Institute. Utilities in regions with both large and small Spanish-speaking communities operate outreach programs that range from offering brochures translated into Spanish to opening neighborhood offices run by bilingual staff. In the four states with the largest Spanish-speaking populations--California, Texas, New York, and Florida--utilities are offering a number of Spanish-language conservation programs. The programs vary in response to the particulars of each community--whether it is urban or rural, enjoys a temperate or seasonal climate, and also according to which dialects are spoken. Once appropriate information is developed, there are a variety of ways to make it accessible to the greatest number of people. Some of the general tactics utilities are currently using can be applied in any community.
A key element of any program designed to reach Spanish-speaking customers is the translation of basic energy information and all program materials into their language. This is not as simple as hiring a translator for the job, because colloquialisms vary from place to place. For example, native Mexican Spanish speakers may be unfamiliar with Cuban colloquialisms. One utility used the word bomba for pump, only to later discover that they were offering customers incentives to buy heat bombs, not heat pumps.
Con Edison, serving New York City and its long-established Hispanic community, has equally well-established services for Spanish-speaking customers. According to Con Ed public information manager Rich Mulieri, the company employs 66 bilingual customer representatives, and additional Spanish-speaking staff for its customer outreach program. Most of the company's informational literature is printed in both Spanish and English, and customers can request that their bills be printed in Spanish as well.
Florida Power and Light, which serves Miami and Dade County, used to translate its existing English materials into Spanish, but it now creates its Spanish language publications from scratch and gets feedback from auditors in the field about how comprehensible the materials are. That goes for English, too, said FP&L energy information supervisor Mel Klein. We have to see if it means anything to our customers.
On the other edge of the country, Pacific Gas & Electric also serves a large Spanish-speaking population. PG&E customer services specialist Rich Rock said, The utility is continually working on improving our service for Spanish-speaking customers, making every effort to have Spanish-speaking service representatives on the phones and at customer service counters, focusing on areas where the Hispanic population are concentrated. We've been more aggressive in hiring services reps that speak the languages found in our communities. Local customer service representatives in offices without in-house bilingual staff also use AT&T Language Line Services--(800)752.6096--a phone service providing translation services in 140 languages to help serve customers who don't speak English.
Energy auditors have always faced the task of translating technical jargon and hard-to-understand terms in order to teach consumers how to conserve energy and keep their bills low. Since a growing portion of the population feels more comfortable speaking Spanish than English, the scope of that translation effort has grown. Even basic materials, such as the labeled house and glossary on the following pages, can help customers understand the basics of conservation and provide them with a valuable introduction to saving energy.
Key to Figure 1.
1. chimney - chimenea
basement - sótano
Figure 1. The bilingual house. The above figure shows a cross-section of a house with a variety of energy-related devices. The key on the facing page matches the English and Spanish terms. In addition, we have provided a glossary of terms that do not appear in the figure. We invite our readers to send us any suggested changes or alternate translations.
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Confessions of an 'Addicted' Auditor (Padian)
Measuring the Performance of the National Energy Audit (Sharp)
The National Energy Audit (Harner)
New York's 'Targeted Investment Protocol System' (Gerardi and Sweeney)
Selecting an Infrared Imaging System (Snell)
Training Guide for 'Total Comfort' Professionals
Using Fuel Bills for a Targeted Investment (Padian)
The Wisconsin Audit System (O'Leary)
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