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Why I’m Learning Spanish

I’m a writer, producer and director based in Washington, D.C. but I am originally from Rochester, N.Y. French students in my middle school had the option of going on a weekend trip to Quebec and Montreal. Canada is pretty familiar to kids growing up in that part of New York, but taking a trip without your parents to French-speaking Canada sounded like a great adventure (even if the trip was in February), and thus I chose French as my foreign language. I ended up taking a year of Latin in high school too, and while that was helpful for the SATs, I never really used either language very much. My last two years of French were a slog, and I was happy to simply to test out of language classes in college.

My first trip to a foreign country outside of Canada and the Caribbean was to Spain. Thankfully, friends on the trip were pretty fluent in Spanish, but I remember wishing I had studied the language as I navigated trains, bus stations and hostels by relying entirely on my friends. By the end of the trip, I’d picked up just enough to be able to follow a story if the person telling it was really expressive and spoke with their hands a lot. It felt like a small triumph.

I moved to Washington, D.C. in 1999 where I started hearing Spanish in everyday conversations. I traveled to more Spanish speaking countries, realizing with each trip how much more useful it would have been to learn Spanish. So why, about 25 years after my first trip to Spain, am I choosing to learn Spanish now?

Washington, D.C. is a hub for non-profit organizations and government agencies. It’s also a diverse city with a large Spanish-speaking population. I specialize in producing short-form, educational and informational videos and over the last few years my clients have started requesting Spanish versions of their videos quite frequently. Initially, this meant captioning a video in Spanish or having Spanish-speaking talent voice it over. I could review these Spanish versions for obvious issues (like audio drop-outs or glaring typos) but my lack of knowledge of the Spanish language meant I couldn’t be as helpful in this process as I wanted to be.

When a producer is creating a video that will require a voice-over, it is common to record a “scratch track” for the editor. I typically record these for my projects. This gives the editor a voiceover track to use for timing purposes and gives me the ability to make changes to the script without incurring costs for professional voiceover talent until the script is 100% approved. At the end of the project, I time out each line of my “scratch track” voiceover and then direct the final talent to read each line with the same timing. The professional narrator’s voiceover replaces my voice in the final video.

It typically takes longer to say something in Spanish than it does in English, so when you’re translating a video from English into Spanish, you often have to re-time the video or animation to make room for the longer Spanish sentences. I realized that if I could record a “scratch track” in Spanish, even if my pronunciation wasn’t perfect, I could make this process easier for the editors with whom I work.

When a video needs to be a fixed length, like a 30-second-long television commercial, the English script often needs to be cut down significantly for the Spanish translation. This process can be quite laborious without any knowledge of the Spanish language. Even though my Spanish will probably never be good enough for me to translate my own scripts, the ability to evaluate a translation and see what could be shortened will be a huge time-saver.

The more customized a video is to the audience it is meant to serve, the more likely the message in the video will be received. Simply captioning a video in Spanish or adding voiceover in Spanish is often not enough. More and more, my clients are asking that all graphics be translated as well. For one project, I used bilingual talent to perform in both English and Spanish. Since I am being called upon to produce content in Spanish more and more often, it became clear that I needed to learn the language.

I’m in my second block of classes with Spanish Millennium, and I’m starting to see real improvements in my pronunciation and comprehension. I’m looking forward to the next project that will put my newfound Spanish skills to the test.

Sue O’Hora is a writer, producer and director with over 20 years of experience. She founded Rising Night Productions to streamline the video production process for busy communications professionals. She brings her extensive network of video experts and her skills in production, project management and digital marketing to each project. Her goal is to make video projects easier for organizations of all sizes.

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