In 2004, a law required government agencies in Washington D.C. to work on the translation of important documents and services into several languages. Unfortunately, though the law technically made it a priority, it was not considered one until now. After a report showed that 58% of non-English speakers in the region had trouble understanding D.C. agency documents, they decided to finally make professional translation for all the information they offer a priority. This is good news, because 74% of those speakers said that there were no interpretation services available to them when they needed help, and 50% of the documents they needed to read, understand, and fill out were not in their language. For a state with so many foreign residents and with such high expectations for setting a standard for national government policies, many believe that eight years after the creation of a law is a little late for taking care of it. Then again, others feel it is better late than never.
One Government, 10 Different Languages
As of now, the people living in D.C. are from 25 different countries and speak 10 different languages. While there do seem to be plenty of documents with a Spanish translation, their study found that it was primarily Vietnamese and Mandarin speakers who had the most trouble finding information in their language or translators who could interpret for them. The D.C. Office of Human Rights plans to combat this, by making more information available in more languages and by informing their residents of this change through a public service campaign. For those who speak Amharic, Chinese, French, Korean, Spanish, or Vietnamese, all they have to do is request translation services, and their language needs will be met by any D.C. government agency.
“I Speak” Cards Help Give Foreigners a Voice
If a person does not speak English at all, even asking for an interpreter for the language they do speak could be difficult. This is why the Office of Human Rights created their “I Speak” card. Basically, the card gives foreigners the numbers, information, and even English words they’ll need to request an interpreter. They are hoping this card will encourage non-English speaking residents to come forward for the services they need and to feel more welcome in the community. Hopefully, this change will also give the government more information about who’s living in their city and the kind of services they require. In the meantime, at least this translation policy is finally seeing some action, so that a conversation can get started.