“My service-learning course provides Spanish/English translation. It has existed for 15 years. I proposed and developed the course because we had a need.”
Dr. Jeffrey Reeder is a professor and advisor for the Spanish Department at Sonoma State University. Throughout his life, he spent time in Latin America and graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington, then earning a Ph.D. in Ibero-romance philology and linguistics at the university of Texas at Austin. After teaching for a few years at Baylor University, he came to Sonoma State in 1998. He created a new course in teaching translation of English into Spanish for government agencies and non-profit organizations for free.
Dr. Reeder’s eyes lit up in excitement when he explained how he was inspired to create the service-learning course. “It came about by one of my Spanish graduates who got a job. Her job immediately asked her to translate the employee manual into Spanish. She was so underprepared and did not know where to start. She decided to reach out to me for advice and it got me started thinking about how this is an example of Spanish major graduates not knowing what their career expectations would be. So, I decided to prepare the students for the future.” One student impacted Dr. Reeder to help other Spanish majors in hopes of preparing for their careers.
Since 2003, Dr. Reeder has taught Spanish 410 each spring for Spanish major seniors. He explains how translation is a team learning experience. Dividing the class into groups of 3 to 4 students, each team is paired with a non-profit or government agency that needs a pamphlet, manual, or other material translated correctly into Spanish.
One of his students, Danielle Sandland, says, “The Spanish translation course not only taught us how to produce more accurate translations, but we were able to learn first hand through partnering with different organizations around California. We translated real-world documents for various organizations, received feedback, and even had a representative from one organization come and give a presentation to our class about the work they do, and why it is important. It felt like it was more than just a Spanish class because we learned about the importance of several agencies in our community and how the Spanish language is vital to their existence.”
If the students have any questions about the agency they are working with, the students in his class can reach out to them by calling the agency with the questions that need to be answered. Sometimes the agencies come to class to explain their goals for the project so that the students understand more.
Throughout the years, Dr. Reeder has partnered with California State Parks, Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, City of Santa Rosa, Humane Society, Friends on the Outside, The Community Health Center of Watsonville, North Marin Community Services, and many more organizations.
“We work with many monolingual Spanish-speaking clients that need our services. I partnered with Dr. Reeder and his class to translate the English documents that I had into Spanish. I'm glad to say that each document came out exactly the way it was supposed to and now I'm able to serve my clients properly and respectfully in the manner that they deserve," explains Michael Lamorte, a Recovery Coach for Marin County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services.
Since the start of the class in 2003, Dr. Reeder has calculated that his students have provided a total of $40,000 worth of excellent quality translation.
“Each time we teach the class, we translate and give back to our partner agencies about 20,000 - 25,000 words of final, finished high-quality translation. The standard going rate for translation is 15 cents a word, which means we translate and give back $3,000 - $3,750 worth of translations every year. Since the course has been taught 11 times, that works out to between $33,000 - $41,250 in total that we have done with the class over the years since the course has been a service-learning class,” expresses Jeff Reeder.
His efforts in service-learning at Sonoma State have helped students to improve their translations from English to Spanish in the future.
“I learned a great level of professionalism by having to translate real-world documents. The class provided me with group work tools that I will carry out in my future career path,” says Gerardo Espinoza, an SSU student.