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Berwyn community offers bilingual newsletter

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Posted on: May 2, 2024


The College Park community of Berwyn has published a regular newsletter for the neighborhood’s 500 homes for 50 years. Two years ago, the Berwyn District Civic Association started translating the eight-page publication into Spanish.

“It always had been in English, and then we had enough of a Spanish-speaking population here” that offering the newsletter in two languages made sense, according to Kelly Jordan, the  co-president said.

The Berwyn News comes out online once a month and in print every quarter and contains information about upcoming meetings, events and city announcements. The city estimates that 15.34% of its 35,000 residents identify as Hispanic or Latino and that 13% speak Spanish as their primary language at home. 

“You have to understand your audience and who makes up your audience,” Bob Catlin, who also serves as co-president of the association, said.

Jordan said she got the idea for translating the newsletter after seeing a bilingual parent liaison working at the local elementary school, which sends out printed materials in both English and Spanish. However, the small civic association needed help to pay a translator’s $150 to $250 monthly fee. 

Catlin and Jordan appealed to the city for funding and were awarded a grant to pay for the service. The association tapped Edward Najjar, who had already worked as the translator at the Prince George’s County courthouse, to do the work.

Jordan said Najjar does more than translate the words. He uses his expertise to rewrite the materials in the same voice as the English version, while considering multiple Spanish dialects.

Jordan and Catlin initially used Google Translate, which is free, but said the results were insufficient. “We didn’t want to just use Google Translate,” Jordan said. “If we could ever get actual people to translate [the newsletter] … we always preferred that.”

The city’s proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2025 includes $7,500 that neighborhood associations would be able to tap to pay for translators for their newsletters. The proposed budget also includes $65,000 to add a full-time bilingual communications coordinator to the city staff.

College Park City Councilmember Jacob Hernandez (District 1) said he supports both proposed budget items. “I’m all about getting folks who speak Spanish to be a part of the larger community,” Hernandez said, during an April budget workshop.

Civic associations, Hernandez added, “are groups that act as hubs for our neighborhoods’ most engaged residents. This is such an incredible tool that will be available to the civic associations that allows them to conduct outreach to their community.”

Jordan said she is glad the city has proposed the grant as a budget item so other civic associations can also get translators. “It’s been a valuable service to the residents, and translation is such a barrier that it’s hard for something like a small civic association to do on their own,” Jordan said. 

Jordan said that more Spanish-speaking residents are coming out to community events in Berwyn, like the association’s spring egg hunt. She noted that she is trying to learn how to speak some Spanish so she can connect with neighbors, even if they can’t have deep conversations.

Catlin, who also serves as the vice chair of the city’s housing authority, said that organization is translating newsletters into Korean and is also offering Korean-language translators at live meetings.

Hernandez said offering translation services and translated materials, such as neighborhood association newsletters, brings neighbors together. 

“By building a bridge that says, ‘Este soy yo, y soy tu vecino’; this is me, and I’m your neighbor,” Hernandez said.




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