For those of us speaking, writing, and reading English in a country where English is the prevalent language, it’s easy to overlook how much we benefit from fluency. We take it for granted that if we received a parking ticket, a court summons, or needed to apply for Medicare we would know what to do and where to go. Unfortunately, for non-English speakers, this is often not the case.
Language justice is an ethical philosophy that respects every individual’s fundamental language rights—to be able to communicate, to understand, and to be understood in the language they are most comfortable using.
Did you know there are more than 300 non-English spoken and sign languages used in the United States? According to the 2018 Census Bureau, 67.3 million residents in the United States speak a language other than English at home. According to a 2018 Washington Post article, an estimated 40% of those individuals do not speak English very well—that’s nearly 27 million Americans. While Spanish is the most common foreign language in the U.S., our history of being a cultural “mixing pot” has created under-represented pockets and communities where this language gap results in limited access to medical, legal and other professional services.
According to the American Bar Association, non-English speaking people in the United States face greater challenges seeking access to basic amenities, legal remedies, and supportive services than their English-speaking peers. English proficiency or lack thereof impacts access to basic, fundamental needs such as housing, employment law, law enforcement, and health care.
According to talkpoverty.org, “adults with limited English skills tend to have higher rates of unemployment and lower wages.” They go on to describe how the lack of English proficiency of parents results in challenges to access knowledge and resources to help their children with educational needs, find health facilities and navigate the juvenile justice system. The COVID-19 pandemic has created greater challenges for many of these people because they are far less likely to have Internet access, which has become the foundation of most communications since March 2020.
As a legal professional, what can you do to enhance language justice?
- Seek to understand the diverse language needs in your area. While you may have non-English speaking clients approach you for legal assistance, there are likely many more in the community that don’t know how to reach you.
- Develop new options to serve non-English speaking clients. If it is not safe or feasible to meet with a client in person, this may mean mailing or arranging delivery of translated documents to the client and following up with a phone conversation. These options are valuable for clients without access to email, printing services, or other computer-related communications.
- Use qualified legal translation services to best serve your non-English speaking clients. Legal situations are precarious, so having the right service with legal experience and language proficiency will ensure your clients receive accurate translations every time.
- Advocate for your clients’ language rights throughout the justice system. Non-English speakers may not know if they are receiving their full rights, so keeping a closer eye on these cases can make a big difference to them.
- Share what you know about language justice with your colleagues. Creating more focus on this growing issue will help to make sure every client receives the best legal representation.
Choose The Perfect Translation when you need professional translation of legal documents. We provide certified and notarized document translation services for all document types associated with industries such as immigration, business, real estate, financial, academic, legal, and medical. Contact us today for a free quote and to learn more about how we can serve you.