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PALM LATITUDES

Melting Pot

February 16, 1992|Jerry Lazar | Edited by Mary McNamara

You can take the girl out of public relations, but you can't take public relations out of the girl. Less than two years ago, Newport Beach publicist Jill Webber, weary of promoting baldness cures and stress-test cards, fled for the boondocks of the Lucerne Valley. She bought an old homestead on 10 acres, added a couple of champion Rhodesian ridgebacks and a flock of chickens, and contentedly rose every dawn to haul hay in her '63 Ford pickup.

Unfortunately, she no habla espanol and had difficulty communicating with her stable hand. When she thought she was requesting a bucket of avena (oats), she got a bucket of abono (manure). So she constructed a bilingual wall chart listing hundreds of common equestrian words and phrases so that she could learn the Spanish words for saddle ( silla ) and bridle ( brida ) , while he learned the English words for herradura (horseshoe) and mosca (housefly). Ever the entrepreneur, Webber, 31, was soon selling (for $9.95) an illustrated, 17-by-24-inch poster version, complete with pronunciation guide, to equestrians nationally. Next came a secretary, a translator and other industry-specific bilingual charts. Her hotel posters now hang in Marriotts and Holiday Inns; her restaurant posters adorn kitchens in L.A.-area Taco Bells and Tony Romas, where waitresses can instruct busboys to bring a vaso (glass) of te con hielo (iced tea) to the mesa (table). "For the price of an entree," notes Webber, "management can avoid (language) training seminars."

Webber recently went mainstream; Translation Posters now markets housekeeping and landscaping versions to homeowners so that they can ask which semilla (seed) goes in which maceta (flowerpot). "My girlfriend works in a dental office and she's been hounding me to get going on a poster she can use," says Webber. "(Latino) patients come in and the dentist is unable to ask them about their pain. Imagine being in a dentist's chair and not able to understand, and the drill is coming at you. That's got to be terrifying in any language!"

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