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Translating finance, in dollars or dinero

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, November 1, 2009

No es facil hablar de dinero.

In English: It's not easy to talk about money.

For many people, speaking the language of money is like trying to learn a foreign tongue. It can be frustrating.

Many books seek to help you learn the language. And every month, I search for those I find useful or unique.

For this month's Color of Money Book Club pick, I'm recommending a book that literally translates the language of money.

Lynn Jimenez, an award-winning business reporter for KGO Radio 810 in San Francisco, has written "¿Se Habla Dinero? The Everyday Guide to Financial Success" (Wiley, $19.95). What's so fabulous about this book, which was published last year, is that from the table of contents right through to the index, Jimenez provides side-by-side Spanish and English translations. The Spanish is on the left-side pages, the English on the right.

Although anyone will benefit from this basic personal finance guide, Jimenez wrote this bilingual guide specifically to appeal to multigenerational Hispanic families.

Like the U.S. population as a whole, Latinos are feeling the sting of the economic downturn, reports the Pew Hispanic Center. In a January survey, the center noted that 9 percent of Latino homeowners said they had missed a mortgage payment or were unable to make a full payment.

The survey found that Latinos hold a more negative view of their own current personal financial situation than does the general U.S. population. Seventy-six percent of those polled said their current personal finances are in either fair or poor shape, compared with 63 percent of the population overall.

Despite their financial challenges and concerns, Hispanics are moving into the nation's middle class at a rapid pace, Jimenez wrote.

The fastest-growing portion of the Hispanic market is households earning $50,000 or more a year. Hispanic consumer spending clout will rise from $212 billion in 1990 to $1.4 trillion in 2013, according to a projection by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business.

In her book, Jimenez sticks with the fundamentals. She starts with the mechanics of opening and using bank accounts, then moves on to how to save, use credit, get out of credit card trouble, pay for college, borrow to buy a home or start a business, purchase insurance, and set up a will.

Jimenez customized the book to make her Latino readers feel included. The example characters have Hispanic surnames. Instead of the generic Jones family, there's the Vega family, with parents Maria and Jose and son Pedro. There are tips aimed specifically at Latinos. For example, she reminds some that unlike in their native countries, a notario (notary public in the United States) is not an attorney (Un notario no es un abogado). Law enforcement officials say some schemers call themselves notarios to take advantage of immigrants who are unaware of the distinction.

Jimenez said she envisions the book being passed along from Latino grandparents who don't speak English to their adult children who may speak some English to adult or young grandchildren, born in the United States who may not speak or read any Spanish.

The book "can be used as a quick reference as your family climbs the financial ladder," she writes. "It is designed to encourage conversations about money between generations."

As Jimenez says in the introduction: "El Dinero tiene su propio lenguaje, su propio vocabulario, su propio codigo de palabras. Es fundamental que comprenda el lenguaje del dinero, cualquiera sea el idioma que usted hable."

Or, as she advises in English: "You must speak the language of money to understand how to use it to your own advantage."

If you're looking for a basic money guide for yourself or a young person, "¿Se Habla Dinero?" is a good choice in both English and Spanish.

It's easy to be a member of the Color of Money Book Club. We don't meet -- at least not in person. We come together for a live online discussion. Join me at noon Nov. 19 at http://washingtonpost.com/discussions. Jimenez will be my guest. Also available to answer your personal finance questions will be certified financial planner Randy Gridley, who helped with a section of the book.

Every month, I randomly select readers to receive a copy of the featured book, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win Jiminez's book send an e-mail to colorofmoney@washpost.com with your name and address.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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