enhancing access for individuals with limited english profiency toolkit

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Languages that you have never heard before might be hard to identify—an important first step in finding an interpreter! There are a few strategies to try.

Language Identification Cards & Posters

If you are working in person with a survivor who is unable to tell you the English name for their language, but may be able to recognize their own written language, start with language identification cards or posters.

“I Speak” cards are commonly used and can identify approximately 38 languages in both the foreign language and in English. Some language identification posters (more here) have a similar format. To be most effective, the cards or posters should invite survivors to identify to you which languages they speak.

Tips for Putting this Strategy into Practice (Read More...)

If you are on the phone with a survivor, you may be able to identify a spoken language by reading aloud the names of the languages listed on the “I Speak” cards or poster (most cards and posters provide the names of the languages in English). Consider asking your volunteers, community groups, or other partners, or using Google Translate (see below), to learn how to say the names of languages in the languages themselves. For example, “Vietnamese” in Vietnamese is written tiếng Việt and pronounced approximately as t’yeng v’yet. 

Over-the-Phone Interpretation, or “Language Lines”

Generally, when you use over-the-phone-interpretation (OPI), you dial toll-free number and provide your account information. You are immediately asked for which language you need interpretation, or the “targeted language.” If you do not know the name of the language and cannot identify it, the service can help you. Once the language has been identified, you are transferred to an interpreter. See “Interpreters” for more information on OPI services.

Language Banks

Language banks have been developed by several organizations around the country. Volunteers and staff from throughout the community serve in a “bank” of interpreters who agree to be “on call” when language access services are needed. Language banks that have a coordinator or other central contact point may be able to assist advocates to identify a survivor’s spoken language. See “Interpreters” for current examples of language banks.

Google Translate

Technological advances may also help in a pinch. Google Translate, for example, is an app for smartphones and an online service (cell or internet service is needed) that may help you with basic communications with a survivor until a bilingual advocate or interpreter is available. Google Translate supports over 70 languages.

The app is readily accessible and user-friendly. (Read More...)

You can type in text and have it translated to another language, use the phone camera to photograph written materials (signs etc.) and the app will translate it, and speak into the microphone for an interpretation. It opens to the translate screen, where you select the languages you want. The language you are translating from will be on the left and the language you are translating to will be on the right. You will need to change the “directions” of the languages, depending on whether you are translating for yourself (from the survivor’s language into English) or for the survivor (from English into the survivor’s language).

Tap the line at the bottom of the screen to bring the virtual keyboard up and type in the word or phrase that you would like to translate. Tap the speaker icon at the right hand side of the translation and your device will speak the translation aloud. There is also a small microphone icon in the translate box that will allow you or the survivor to speak the word or phrase you want translated.  

Google Translate is also available online. Go to www.translate.google.com. A screen will load with two boxes. Type or cut-and-pasted your message into the translation box on the left, and select the “from” and “to” languages from the drop-down menus. As in the app version, this version has an audio function. 

Since Google interpretations/translations are computer generated, its results are literal and lack adequate context, both of which can lead to errors in communication. When using Google Translate in either form, you’ll have best results if you use very simple words and sentences. While not always accurate, this tool can be of great help in emergency situations until you are able to locate an interpreter or bilingual advocate.