9 tips for communicating with Hispanics and Latinos
Today's congregations are challenged to become more effective in communicating across demographic and cultural divides.
Is your church located in a rapidly changing community with an influx of Hispanic and Latino families? Do you wish to reach out to these new residents, invite them into your church family and involve them in your activities?
1. Make sure your church is ready to meet these audiences' needs.
This isn't a communications tip, but it is an obvious place to start. Before your congregation begins thinking about communicating, assess whether it is ready to serve Hispanic families. Telling Hispanics and Latinos you are open to them is not the same as being ready to serve them. Are people in your church prepared at every level to help newcomers participate fully? Do members of your congregation see Hispanics as "illegal immigrants" and resent their presence in the community? Have you researched needs and considered carefully how your church can help? Many Hispanics have critical social and advocacy needs. Will your church be willing to support these services?
The Gobal Ministries agency of The United Methodist Church offers a National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry that features training modules you can download -- including bilngual versions -- with core values that are holistic, people-centered, connectional, resourceful and prophetic. Make sure everything is set before starting your communications. Word of mouth is particularly important when reaching out to Hispanics, and comments about bad experiences spread rapidly.
2. Assess where your Hispanic audience is in the acculturation process.
How long have these new residents been in the United States? Hispanics and Latinos who have been in the country for more than one generation typically have strong English-language skills and may not require a bilingual approach. Multicultural households, however, often are multigenerational. You may need to present information in both English and Spanish. According to the Census Bureau, more than 28 percent of Hispanics and Latinos describe their English-language skills as inadequate, suggesting your church should be prepared to accommodate both languages if it wants to be successful.
Acculturation involves more than language. It involves social and personal values, perceptions and world views. Since many in your audience may be short-time U.S. residents, you need to understand the groups that make up your audience.
3. Don't assume a "typical" Hispanic or Latino audience exists.
The Spanish-speaking audience is very diverse. We may tend to lump people from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain, Guatemala, Chile and Mexico as "Hispanics" or "Latinos" because they all speak the same language, but their experiences and use of different idioms can make communications much more complex. Michael Saray Marketing, a Hispanic marketing firm, recommends finding out which group or groups you have in your area and making sure your message is worded appropriately for that audience. Using a local translator familiar with your target community can minimize problems if s/he also can help you bridge world views, values and cultures.
4. Work with good translators.
Direct translations of your message from English probably will not work. In fact, your audience may find such a translation insulting. Often direct translations fail to deliver the message in the right context. Find translators willing to take the time to understand what you are trying to communicate and the spirit of your message. They can help ensure your content is culturally sensitive and appropriate.
5. Print direct-mail and other resources in both English and Spanish.
Saray recommends putting the message in both languages in direct-mail and other print pieces, Spanish on one side and English on the other. He also suggests crafting the message in Spanish first, before it is written in English. This practice, he maintains, ensures both sides of the resource say essentially the same thing.
6. Focus on the personal touch.
Many Hispanics prefer face-to-face contact. Their cultures are less oriented toward phones and mail than Anglo culture. To reach them requires a door-to-door effort. Remember, you are trying to establish relationships, and "typical" print pieces and phone calls may be viewed as decidedly more impersonal.
7. Tailor your message to your audience.
Spanish-speaking cultures tend to be more "right-brained" than the general U.S. audience. Hispanics and Latinos want to see the big picture and have information that appeals to their intuitive, creative side.
Miguel Winebrenner goes even further. He writes that the general U.S. market tends to start its communications with the main point or punch line and then to provide supporting detail. Many Hispanic markets, however, find that approach cold, even offensive. The preferred approach, according to Winebrenner, is to lead up to the main point with information and then to deliver the conclusion.
This change in thought process can be shown graphically:
8. Remember, you're probably talking to a family.
Even if your audience has been in the United States for many generations and speaks little Spanish, many Hispanics and Latinos have kept their family-oriented values over the years. Be willing to talk about those values important to families and be prepared to serve children and youth, not just adults. Recognize up front that you will need group leaders fluent in Spanish across multiple age groups.
9. Be committed.
Attracting Hispanics and Latinos to your church will take time and more than one communication effort. Consistent effort and attention, combined with appropriate programs and services, will gain this audience's attention and trust. You're building relationships, and that doesn't happen overnight.
Do you have tips to offer other churches? Send your recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.