Spokane Journal of Business

River Linguistics Inc.: Unlocking language

A global reach flows out of Spokane-based River Linguistics Inc.

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 A global reach flows out of Spokane-based River Linguistics Inc., a company offering a range of translation and interpreting services for businesses and agencies needing to communicate with non-English speakers. 

While written translations and verbal interpreting are at its core, River Linguistics’ language services continue to expand, says Jenny Charlton-Jones, its president and owner. She operates the company with her husband, CEO Casey Charlton.

“We can provide translations into over 94 languages and counting,” Charlton-Jones says. “That’s just for the written word.”

Adds Charlton, “For interpreting of the spoken word, it’s 200-plus languages.”

Founded in 2013 as a Native American woman-owned business, River Linguistics occupies a leased 1,000-square-foot downtown space at 811 W. Second. Its steady clients include several Spokane-area entities and one federal program in New Mexico that provides international law enforcement training. 

With a recent Small Business Administration designation, the company expects it will gain a watershed of new federal contracts, Charlton-Jones says. On Jan. 21, the company received certification in the SBA 8(a) business development program that provides nine years of support to small, disadvantaged businesses and strategic planning to compete for federal contracts. 

River Linguistics already had other federal certifications in place, including its location in a Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Zone, and its designation as a third-party Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business.

“Now that we have the 8(a) certification, that rounds out the entire set of designations that kind of give us a leg up for receiving government contracting work,” Charlton-Jones says. “I anticipate we’ll have to hire staff. We expect to hire another two to three before the end of this year, and that’s without any large government contract.”

She and Charlton work full time, while three employees are part time. However, the company also hires from a pool of roughly 500 subcontractors who are trained language experts based all over the world. 

Its subcontractors have an expertise in various subject matters, ranging from engineering to law, to support River Linguistics’ work for business and agency clients needing translation services for industry-specific materials. 

“We only subcontract work to a native speaker of the language we’re translating into,” Charlton says. “You also have to look at subject matter.”

He adds, “We’re more in the role of being the brokers. We have all the subcontractors and subject matter experts on one hand and clients on the other, and what we provide is the technology, the infrastructure, and process to get the clients what they need.”   

Adds Charlton-Jones, “That’s why we have to have such a wide network of translators because you never know what language and industry you’re going to be servicing. We’ve worked in areas of engineering tech, marketing, legal, dentistry, aerospace.”

After a year of startup in their Spokane home and a second year in the downtown office, River Linguistics has experienced income growth as well, Charlton says. 

“Over last year, we saw about a 10 percent increase in revenue year over year,” he says. “Our first-year revenue was equal to the average revenue of companies our size in the industry.”

The company also provides translations for packaging materials sent with pro-ducts delivered internationally. Charlton says such packaging work is done for a Spokane facility of AvertX, a surveillance products company. As one example, River Linguistics provides product software video captions in Latin American languages and Canadian French to go with sold camera packages.

“Our products are embedded in products our clients are exporting, and examples are product packaging information on videos, websites, and software apps in any given language,” Charlton says. “Our services support our clients in the exports of their products and services.”

Spokane Transit Authority is another client using River Linguistics’ telephonic interpreting services for non-English speakers, Charlton-Jones says. That service might help someone who speaks Vietnamese schedule a paratransit ride, she says.

Providing services to businesses is half of River Linguistics’ business model, Charlton adds. The other focus targets language services for federal programs.  

River Linguistics’ threefold federal certifications make the company “very attractive” to government agencies and prime government contractors, Charlton asserts. “We have several RFPs (requests for proposals) out there.” 

In June 2015, the company started ongoing work supporting the International Law Enforcement Academy-Roswell. The federal academic program enables U.S. law enforcement experts to teach criminal justice practices to visiting police officers and investigators from abroad. 

“Delegates in police or other agencies from other countries learn about forensics, organized crime, modern law, crime scene management, and counterterrorism,” Charlton-Jones says. “We translate all their training materials, which entails presentation-style PowerPoint slides, documents, schedules, worksheets, handouts.”

Meanwhile, River Linguistics joined another project about a year ago to support Greater Spokane Incorporated’s international trade program. River Linguistics is part of a committee that consults and helps drive program goals, Charlton-Jones says. 

“The program is trying to build more visibility and involvement around international trade in the region,” she says. “It’s all about getting local businesses involved in trade. We’re hoping to drive policies that are beneficial to international trade as well.”

Although Seattle’s port and multicultural ties draw attention, Spokane also is a hub for international trade, she adds. “Local businesses in Spokane may not be aware there is an international market for their products or services. The GSI program wants to inform more people.”

River Linguistics also is a sponsor for the May 5 Inland Northwest World Trade Day at Spokane Community College. Charlton is invited to be panelist speaker. 

The couple started careers after lengthy language and international studies. They met in a college abroad program in Berlin. Both are fluent in German, while Charlton can navigate well with conversational-level Spanish. He has a high reading ability in multiple languages. 

Charlton-Jones earned a linguistics degree from Cornell University. After a well-traveled military upbringing, she studied German, Swahili, Spanish, and Arabic. She then settled in Spokane where her parents worked for the Spokane Tribe of Indians. Her Native American ancestry is Blackfeet. 

Along with prior language service work, Charlton-Jones worked as a technical writer for Indian Health Service in Spokane. 

Charlton worked more than 10 years in translation and localization, defined as the process of adapting a product such as a game or website to the language and culture of a region. He has an international business and marketing degree from McCombs Business School, University of Texas at Austin.  

“We have familiarity with languages that is extremely helpful in this industry,” says Charlton-Jones, adding their experience includes cultural understanding. “Language is not a mathematical equation. Language is subjective and highly cultural.”

Treva Lind
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