In Ricardo Avilés’ childhood home in Puerto Rico, it was expected of him to learn English.
His father constantly encouraged him to practice the language, and Avilés says his friends would turn to him for help with their English homework.
By age 16, he was working for the Department of Education in Puerto Rico as a professional interpreter and translator. In 2008, he joined the U.S. Army as a military police officer in Fort Leonard Wood, which catapulted him to an internship with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as an interpreter and translator.
A friend convinced Avilés to start his own agency in 2017, he says the demand quickly became clear.
“You can know Spanish, but to be able to interpret and translate is another skill set,” Avilés says. “Not everyone can do it.”
Language Ninja Solutions LLC, formerly Avilés Translations, is a Springfield-based Spanish interpretation and translation agency specializing in marketing, legal, financial, medical and educational sectors. Avilés says he and five employees receive a wide range of work, from helping a business translate its website into Spanish to being an interpreter in the courtroom.
“Every day is unknown,” Avilés says. “One minute you’re going to the hospital, the next you’re speaking with a cop.”
Making a mark
Language Ninja Solutions, a 24/7 agency, has clients throughout the Springfield area, but Avilés says most of the company’s work comes from Texas and Mexico. Avilés hopes to grow his local client base in the next year.
“We’re concentrating to get more contracts and help the community,” he says. “We’ve been able to grow with a lot of word of mouth and marketing, but the biggest struggle right now is getting (the community) to utilize us a little more.”
After launching in September 2017, Language Ninja Solutions produced revenue of $8,700 in its first full year of business. Avilés’ goal for 2019 is $20,000, and he says the company’s already three-fourths of the way there.
Avilés has worked with Springfield businesses and nonprofits, such as Freedom’s Rest, Great Circle and Preferred Family Healthcare Inc.
Springfield Public Schools spokeswoman Teresa Bledsoe says 500 students throughout the district qualify for its English Language Learners program. These are students who do not speak English as their first language, which makes SPS an ideal client for Avilés and his team.
Data from the U.S. Department of Justice shows there were 4,505 people in Greene County, and over 128,000 people in Missouri, in 2015 who were considered to have “limited English proficiency.” Texas and California ranked the highest, with California reporting almost 6.8 million and Texas reporting over 3.3 million people.
Language Ninja Solutions often is contracted to interpret and translate legal services, though Avilés says his employees also are busy translating citizenship documents, coroner reports, and newspaper and magazine articles. They also translate websites and restaurant menus into Spanish.
Rob Burzynski, co-owner of Springfield-based The Moving Co., says he met Avilés a few months ago at 1 Million Cups and since has worked with Language Ninja Solutions to translate his company’s website into Spanish. Avilés also helps Burzynski interpret three-way phone calls with Spanish-speaking clients, whom Burzynski says he once had to turn away from his moving services.
“Over time, it’s not mathematically sound to say ‘no.’ It’s literally kissing business goodbye,” Burzynski says, adding with the Spanish website, “I’ll be capturing an audience I literally have no capacity to take care of on my own.”
Avilés says he hopes to sign a city or state contract that allows him to reach more people in southwest Missouri and begin to teach English language classes over the next year.
“My main goal is to make a business that educates the public,” he says. “I’m not trying to be the biggest. I just want to be where good translators come to and then go do something good in the world.”
Spreading the word
The agency took on a new marketing campaign earlier this year, when its name changed to Language Ninja Solutions. Avilés, the “language ninja,” currently works alongside his employees as a translator and interpreter, specializing in human trafficking and child services-related cases. Avilés is transitioning into the position of CEO and as the face of the company.
“To me, a CEO is someone who networks and connects with people,” Avilés says. “I want to constantly be talking with people and sharing our business.”
He’s gotten his foot in the door at 1 Million Cups, having presented 12 times last year across the U.S. He was slated to present at the last meeting in April in Columbia.
“It’s free knowledge,” Avilés says of 1 Million Cups, the entrepreneurial focused weekly meetings now in over 180 communities. “You have people that just want to come to talk and help you. … I never turn down an opportunity to present.”
The company’s top competitors include national company TransPerfect, as well as St. Louis-based LAMP interpreters. Avilés says it’s hard to consider most translation companies direct competition, because many agencies offer more than Spanish translation.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were 68,200 interpreter and translator jobs in 2016. In the following decade, the bureau projected an 18 percent increase.
Allison Ferch, executive director of Seattle-based Globalization and Localization Association, says the translation business worldwide is a $45 billion industry. But it often goes unnoticed.
As Ferch directs the global, nonprofit member association, she sees few companies and industries think about offering their products in a secondary language. As such, she describes the translation industry as a growing market, because “globalization is happening and content is produced at a rapid rate – especially digital content.”
“Because of the explosion of content, the demand is very high,” Ferch says. “Companies are in the position of having to decide what requires translation and what can be left untranslated.”
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