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You have the right to an interpreter

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The USA is the land of diversity.

According to the US Census Bureau, at least 350 languages are spoken in the United States. If you are seeking government-funded services, then you have the right to an interpreter.

Here are some places where you have the right to an interpreter:

  • government offices
  • schools
  • courts of law
  • hospitals
  • police
  • fire departments
  • non-profit agencies funded by the government, such as legal services

Your right to an interpreter is a law of this land because it helps to prevent discrimination. Many people with limited English struggle to get services due to a lack of interpretation or failing to ask for an interpreter.

How can I get an interpreter?

Don’t be afraid to request an interpreter. This statement will be useful to you: “My native language is [your language] I need an interpreter, please.” If you are told to find your own interpreter or that no interpretation services are available, ask to speak to a supervisor. You have the right to an interpreter.

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Do I have the right to an interpreter in healthcare?

Doctors and other health care providers must also provide an interpreter if you need one. When you make an appointment, tell your medical provider you will need an interpreter.

Do I have to pay?

You do not have to pay for an interpreter when the organization or government office must provide one. The organization must pay the interpreter.

May I use my children to interpret?

It is better not to ask your children if you can manage without doing so. Your children are learning English themselves, and their English level is appropriate for their age. They may not be able to express the thoughts and feelings of an adult, and mistakes in interpretation may happen. It can be mentally exhausting for them, too, as they may fear making mistakes and disappointing you.

May I use other adults in the family to interpret?

You may, but it depends on the setting. The organization/government office might still use their interpreter. Be aware that your family member might not interpret everything out of respect to you, or because it is against their interest, or because they might be unfamiliar with the subject.

Can I trust the interpreter?

Paid or volunteer interpreters are bound by the Interpreter Code of Ethics and must keep your information confidential. If you suspect that the interpreter is sharing information in your community, report them to the organization. It is also important to know that the interpreter will interpret everything you say, so don’t tell them anything you don’t want them to translate. Never ask the interpreter to make a decision on your behalf or ask them to give an opinion. Inform the provider if the interpreter interferes with your choices.

Can I request a different interpreter?

Yes, you can. If you don’t understand the subject or the interpreter, please ask clarifying questions. If you still can’t understand the interpreter, then ask for a different interpreter. I’ve seen it many times in the past, and it is appropriate to ask. The last thing you want to happen is for you to not understand what is required of you during the meeting.

In the end, I know that asking for an interpreter, especially when you speak limited English, can be scary, but it is your right under the law. Always ask politely and don’t harshly demand the service; people are most likely to help you if you are polite.

Opinions expressed and advice given in USAHello’s Voices and Hello blogs are the writers’ own. USAHello offers impartial information and online courses to help newcomers in the USA.