My Life in Language

Christopher Hurtado —  December 15, 2005
My Life in Language | Christopher Hurtado

There is nothing I am more passionate about than languages and culture. My entire life revolves around words and their meaning. In fact, it always has; and my lifelong goal is that it always will. I grew up bilingual and bicultural. I began translating and teaching languages professionally at a young age. I have also become a published author and a public speaker.

From the time I was born, my parents spoke to me in English but to each other in Spanish. My mother was a Spanish teacher born in New York and raised in Baltimore. My father is a Venezuelan. When I was eight, my family moved to Venezuela. Although I’d heard Spanish all my life, I hadn’t learned to speak it. Now I had to. At first, I struggled to communicate, but I became fluent in less than six months. I lived in Venezuela for eight years. During those eight years, English was predominantly spoken in my home and Spanish outside of it. In school, ESL was a required subject. At age 12, I started tutoring my classmates in English after school. My parents divorced when I was 16, and I returned to the United States with my mother and sisters. At 18 I dropped out of school. Around the same time, I made a trip to Venezuela for a short visit with my father. While in Venezuela, I did my first paid translation job. My father accepted and delivered the job, but had me do it and paid me once he was paid. I’ll never forget that job. The topic of the translation was “the chemical composition of the Moore pecan leaf.” I still keep a copy of it to this day. I was thrilled.

Upon returning to the United States, my mother encouraged me to avail myself of my given talents and experience and to ask for a job teaching ESL at a small private language school. Despite my lack of education, the owner of the school gave me a chance and I fell in love with teaching. At the same time, I pursued English-Spanish/Spanish- English translation as a freelance translator. Not long after I started working at Ponce Crum Language School, the school closed down. I left with a letter of recommendation and a couple of important lessons: I learned English grammar. I also learned that helping someone learn to speak a new language was a labor of love for me.

Soon after I left Ponce Crum, I founded Hurtado, Brown & Associates, which would later become Linguistic Solutions to translate a book under contract with the author, a friend of my mother’s. My mother and I worked on this project together. This would be the first of many translation projects on which we collaborated. Mid-project the author died, but my company lived on. I continued to do freelance translation and found another job teaching ESL at Heyes Language Center, another small private language school. Through my experience teaching at Heyes and Ponce Crum, I learned that grammar-based methods aren’t the best way to teach a language.

While working for Mr. Heyes, I met Mr. Joseph Delbusca, a fellow entrepreneur who was also teaching ESL at a private language school, while building a small business on the side. Delbusca and I became business partners and opened two offices in Houston where we offered ESL and Spanish language instruction to the public. Working with Delbusca, I experienced the freedom of using my own teaching methodology for the first time. While working together, Delbusca and I coauthored, produced, and published an ESL and Spanish language instruction audiocassette together, Delbusca later landed us our first ever corporate client, Schlumberger Geco-Prakla, where we offered on-site Spanish language instruction. Soon afterwards, Delbusca and I parted ways. While working with Delbusca, I learned that my teaching methodology was more effective than grammar-based approaches for learning languages.

After Delbusca and I parted ways, he continued to offer language instruction to the public while I pursued corporate business. The first corporate client I landed on my own was Baker Hughes, a fortune 500 company. I won their business in competition with larger, better established vendors like Berlitz due to my methodology, which is conversational in nature. The Baker Hughes buying committee was impressed that its members were able to effortlessly learn a little Spanish by the end of my presentation.

Once I started teaching at Baker Hughes, I was able to win their translation business also. As business grew, I started subcontracting out the work. I then duplicated the success I had at Baker Hughes at several other Houston area companies and continued to grow my business. Eventually, my translation revenues exceeded my language instruction revenues. That’s when I decided to expand my translation business.

Once my Spanish language translation business had grown organically, I began offering translation services in over 40 languages. Later, that number would reach 60 and Spanish would drop from first place to fifth place in number of words translated per language. My most requested languages today (in alphabetical order) are Arabic, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Urdu. The subject matter my company deals with ranges from children’s books, songs & poetry to marketing, to technical, legal, and medical. The translation arm of my business has become almost completely virtual. All of the work is outsourced and most of it is done offshore. My project managers and translators work from home, scattered across the globe. I usually don’t meet my customers face to face either. They are in North America, South America and Europe. My role now is in translation management, which gives me personal exposure to all of the languages my company works with and its peoples. I even get to travel abroad on some of those rare occasions when I do meet my customers face to face.

A couple of years ago, I was tapped by a prominent member of the board of directors of the American Marketing Association (AMA) Houston Chapter to join the board of directors as the founding chair of its Hispanic Marketing Special Interest Group (SIG). After the latest U.S. census revealed the size of the U.S. Hispanic market, businesses became enamored with the opportunity they perceived to tap into that market. Since founding the SIG, I have actively sought opportunities to serve those companies interested in tapping into that market, focusing specifically on Web localization for purposes of online marketing.

The day I attended my first AMA board meeting, I met Karen Orso of Cardinal Health, who invited me to speak on multiculturalism to Cardinal Health employees as part of a diversity initiative by the company. Out of that request was born my highly acclaimed and sought-after presentation “Global Culture: Diversity in the Age of Globalization”, which I’ve since delivered to employees of Marathon Oil, also in support of its diversity initiative, and at breakfasts and luncheons held by different organizations around town.

Around the same time I joined the AMA, I joined the American Translators Association (ATA) and attended my first annual conference. After that first conference, I began mentoring and consulting with other translation company owners. I also joined some of my colleagues as a member of the ASTM, a U.S.-based standards organization corresponding with international standards organizations, to develop a quality standard for translation. By the time I attended my first ATA Translation Company Division (TCD) annual conference and my second ATA annual conference, I had become well known by my colleagues and was nominated as secretary of the ATA’s TCD. I have since begun writing articles for the ATA’s TCD newsletter and am slated to speak at the next ATA annual conference.

About a year and half ago, I met Eric Dondero, author of Worldwide Multilingual Phrase Book and together we coauthored Vacation Spanish: A Survival Guide for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, another phrase book. Our book was published in Houston in 2004 by Integrity Press, Ltd. and Portside Language Services. This was my first book. I had no idea how much time it takes to write a book, nor how much effort goes into the endeavor. I took great pains in choosing what phrases to include, how to best translate them, and how to convey the language learning skills I had used in the classroom. Writing took months. Proofreading and editing took weeks. Publishing the audiocassette, the articles, and the book gave me a sense I could reach beyond the classroom walls to unseen beneficiaries of my work.

Recently, I met Professor Nitish Singh, author of The Culturally Customized Web Site: Customizing Web Sites for the Global Market Place, of California State University (CSU), Chico and began collaborating with him on his research in the online Hispanic market. Professor Singh had initiated his research by conducting focus groups with online Hispanic consumers in Chico and Miami. Together we have conducted further focus groups in Houston. These focus groups have given us greater insight into the importance of language an cultural values in marketing to U.S. Hispanics. Our next step is to conduct nationwide surveys. We anticipate that our research, once it is published, will make a significant contribution to marketers who target the U.S. Hispanic population. Also, I have been invited by Professor Singh to lecture on translation quality assurance at Chico State.

Language has had an enormous impact in shaping my life. My contribution to the world is to share my passion for language by continuously learning and teaching others. I am currently back in school pursuing a degree in linguistics to be followed by a Ph.D., with the goal to become a professor and continue to do research, read, write, speak, consult and teach. Learning and teaching about language and culture have been very rewarding to me in terms of knowledge gained and personal satisfaction. My future with languages is secure. I am a linguist at heart; I always have been and I always will be.

Christopher Hurtado

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Christopher Hurtado is President and CEO of Linguistic Solutions and Adjunct Instructor of Philosophy and Political Science at Utah Valley University. He holds a BA in Middle East Studies/Arabic and Philosophy and an MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies. He coauthored Vacation Spanish: A Survival Guide for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central & South America. He is married to children's book author and homeschool mom, Alysia Gonzalez. Together they have nine children. They are active in their church and in their community.