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Breaking Language Barriers

September 15, 2021 | Diversity, equity and inclusion

Saul Arteaga could be described as a professional barrier breaker. He’s built a career out of helping others overcome one of the biggest barriers they could face: language. Saul is the proud owner of Southern Wisconsin Interpreting and Translation Services (SWITS), a translation and interpretation company based in Delavan, Wisconsin. SWITS services both the private and public sectors, driven by the desire to ensure equal access to education, justice, and healthcare.  

“I know what it’s like to struggle with language,” Saul says. “I came to America from Peru, when I was 18 years old. I had to learn English, and with it I had to learn a lot of other things about this country—attitudes, customs, expectations. Life isn’t always easy for immigrants—especially those who are newly arrived. So I have a background that makes me appreciate what they are going through.”

And Saul has gone through a lot. Even after gaining experience in the U.S. labor force, he still faced challenges. Because he speaks with a strong Spanish accent, he was once told by a supervisor that he would never be promoted to team leader. That kind of dismissal might be demoralizing to some, but to Saul it was a motivation to move on to something bigger. After seeing a job ad in the newspaper for an English/Spanish interpreter, he applied and won the position. His lifetime career was about to begin.

He began with baby steps, offering his services as a freelancer. As he gradually acquired clients, he established his new company, SWITS, recruiting a team of spoken and sign-language interpreters to serve local healthcare systems, governments, judicial organizations, and businesses.

He grew SWITS to cover other areas of Wisconsin, and for years remained a small, local service provider. With the arrival of Covid-19, however, the company was thrust into a new kind of market. “All of a sudden, translating and interpreting had to be virtual. And that meant we were now competing with the big national and multinational companies who had decades of experience in online and remote interpreting,” he explains. “And on top of that, they are able to offer lower prices than small companies like SWITS, because they deal in high volumes.” Saul had to adjust, but he wasn’t fazed, because he has been adjusting to challenges since he first left Peru. He pivoted to meet the new reality of providing services during a pandemic, and today SWITS continues to thrive.

Today the business maintains a roster of up to 80 freelance interpreters and translators. His business model requires enormous flexibility, as he employs people from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and generations. That flexibility comes easily to him, however, as the skills he uses in interpretation are the same ones he needs to work with others: openness, the ability to listen, and a willingness to put oneself in the shoes of people who are different from himself. After years of overcoming challenges, he has come to believe that there’s perhaps a better word for barriers; he likes to think of them as opportunities.  

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