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Bilingual Signage for the National Park Service

By engaging in an intensive, collaborative process in the New Mexico desert, Eriksen helped the U.S. National Park Service produce Spanish-language signage for Carlsbad Caverns. Our Spanish quality manager studied the area’s flora and fauna to create an extensive glossary of relevant geological and botanical terms. This allowed her to find just the right language to welcome Spanish-speaking visitors to this popular tourist destination.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, located in the rich and diverse Chihuahuan Desert of southern New Mexico, features one of the oldest and most famous cave systems in the world. Along with its vast underground chambers, the park is home to ancient sea ledges, rocky canyons, flowering cacti, and a wide variety of desert wildlife.

exploring the Chihuahuan Desert

With approximately 500,000 visitors annually, the park sees a steady stream of guests who seek to learn about the park’s extraordinary biodiversity and topography. In a national park such as Carlsbad Caverns, the exhibits are an important component of the visitor experience, guiding them through the park while educating them about the surrounding environment.

engaging Spanish-speaking visitors

When it came time for Carlsbad Caverns to update its exhibits, the park used the opportunity to better engage its visitor base. Given the large Spanish-speaking population of New Mexico and the American southwest, the park decided to translate their new exhibits into Spanish.

Carlsbad Caverns began by engaging the 106 Group, specialists in interpretive planning, design, and fabrication services, who then brought Eriksen on as their translation partner.

To start the research and development process, Eriksen’s Spanish Quality Manager Silvia Cardoso flew to New Mexico to join the 106 Group team for a site visit. Originally from Colombia, Silvia has an extensive background working with the Spanish language. For over 15 years, she has been making sure Eriksen’s Spanish-language projects are grammatically and structurally accurate while maintaining the desired style and flavor.

For a week, Silvia and the 106 Group team accompanied park rangers, biologists, and a National Park Service writer and editor throughout the park to learn about the cavern formations and the area’s flora and fauna.

By exploring the park in person, the entire team was able to learn the story of the park firsthand so that they could develop the text and graphics to create a unique, enjoyable, and informative visitor experience. Working on-site alongside the rangers and biologists helped Silvia thoroughly understand the content that needed to be translated. This enabled her to utilize the appropriate terminology and craft translations that would connect Spanish-speaking audiences to the place in a meaningful way.

a collaborative effort

With the help of park staff and the National Park Service writer/editor, Silvia developed a very precise glossary of geological terms and terminology related to the flora and fauna. The glossary was used throughout the process to ensure consistent use of terminology across the translated materials.

To give visitors the best experience possible, the exhibits needed to communicate information quickly, clearly, and creatively in both languages. Studies show that visitors don’t look at a sign for more than 30 seconds. This small window meant the exhibits needed to be concise and visually engaging so that people could read them in passing. Condensing long descriptions to fit onto small signs was a challenge. The exhibits needed to present the big picture while at the same time offer details and accurate technical information. Spanish provided an additional challenge, because Spanish-language translations typically expand about 20-25% over the length of their English source.

The process required a lot of back and forth, editing, and exchange of ideas. Eriksen’s approach has always been collaborative, because we believe that taking advantage of everyone’s expertise yields the best results.

enhancing the visitor experience

The intense teaming process led to an end result that everyone was proud of. Silvia’s linguistic expertise, thorough on-site investigation of the park, and collaboration with an engaged, communicative group of professionals led to the successful development of new bilingual signage.

Engaging audiences in their native tongue goes a long way toward making them feel welcome. Carlsbad Caverns is a fascinating place to learn about the natural world, and the new exhibits enhance the experience for Spanish-speaking visitors. New audiences can now explore and discover the park—in their own language.

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