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Washington DC: The Role of Language Services in Our Country

Originally designed by Frenchman Pierre L’Enfant and modeled in a similar way to Paris, Washington, DC has been the capital of the USA for just over 200 years. In this relatively short time, it has seen many changes, from reductions in size to a war with the British in 1812 that destroyed parts of the city, to becoming the focal point of the Civil Rights Movement. From the beginning, Washington, DC has been a compromise of ideas and social ideations, and has represented the coming together of different communities. In fact, the District and its suburbs are arguably one of the most diverse areas in our country. 

Seen as the birthplace of our democracy, even the placement of this city was a compromise between Alexander Hamilton and northern states, who “wanted the new federal government to assume Revolutionary War debts, and Thomas Jefferson and southern states who wanted the capital placed in a location friendly to slave-holding agricultural interests.”*

Today, Washington, DC is as diverse and vibrant as any other world capital. Boasting a proud African American heritage, DC is also where the roots of our modern U.S. translation industry took hold. 

Why are Language Services Important in the USA?

The aim of language services is to enable clear and seamless communication between countries, organizations, communities and, of course, between individuals. Today, we will look at the role that translation plays in our nation and how government choices in regard to language services impact the lives of every American, to just those who speak other languages

It’s no wonder we have such a thriving language industry in the United States. This is due to our exceptionally diverse population. Diversity of heritage and culture is woven into the very fabric of our country. It’s a vital part of ensuring equal opportunities as well as safeguarding public health in times of crises. That age old “American Dream” has always been just as much an inspiration for immigrants and LEPs* as it is for anyone else.

Language Access Provisions in US Law

Our LEP population deserves meaningful access to information in their mother tongue in situations where otherwise they would be at a significant disadvantage to English speakers: in healthcare settings, the court systems, immigration offices and, of course, from public announcements. 

The recent 2020 Final Rule (as discussed in our blog ‘The Final Rule: Revoking Health Care Protections for Limited English Proficient Individuals’) repealed many protections offered by Section 1557 of the 2016 Affordable Care Act (A.C.A). However, the US also has pre-existing legislation including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the LEP Executive Order and the LEP Guidances of 2002. These rules are put in place to govern the rights of access to language services to our residents because they are essential to proper cohesiveness within our uniquely diverse country. 

We’ve previously talked about public sector translations and why they matter in our blog ‘Government Translation Services: The Importance of Public Sector Translations’, and it’s true; access to quality language services is the hallmark of a country that takes community needs into consideration. From diplomacy to public announcements, it is imperative that language service provisions are adequate enough to allow the 63.7 million American residents who don’t speak English at home to be as informed as their English-speaking counterparts.

Translation Services: Good for our US Economy

The private sector has already caught on to some of the many benefits of a multicultural society, with a Harvard article noting: ‘U.S. Hispanics’ disposable income has sextupled between 1990 and 2014, reaching an estimated $1.25 trillion in 2014. This makes up approximately 10% of total U.S. buying power. Companies are taking notice of this growth, and are investing large sums of money in advertisement campaigns targeted to U.S. Hispanics.’

Even businesses within the US and abroad realize that in order to tap into the full economic potential of our nation, they must also target our other language communities. So maybe it’s time that we recognize this on the federal level, too.

USA National Emergency

Since declaring a national emergency on 13 March 2020, many United States* institutions have been mobilized to aid in our national response to this crisis. Each of these institutions are needed during an emergency to help the American public navigate this pandemic with the least possible negative impact to our economy and health. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provide vital health announcements. Likewise, the Departments of State, Department of Labor, and even Homeland Security issue official travel and workplace regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers advice on proper disinfection of spaces and the IRS and FTC provide important information, related to tax filing, emergency payments, , and awareness of scams that target people whose lives have already been turned upside down by the economic impact of the pandemic.. 

Overall,, more work needs to be done to keep everyone informed of their rights and responsibilities. While the CDC has offered information in numerous language formats to aid LEPs across the country and the Department of Labor eventually issued its advice on preventing workplace exposure in more language formats in May 2020, not enough is being done to keep our LEP communities informed and up to date on the latest scientific data and expert advice. Not to mention, even if LEPs know that information in their language is available to them, some may fear requesting the information or services out of fear related to their immigration status, regardless of whether they are documented or not. As a result, due to lack of trust among many LEP communities, not only are they not getting the assistance and information they need, but because of this, there is a higher risk of the pandemic running amok in their communities.

Medical Interpreting

We continue to underestimate the importance of on-hand, real-time interpreting services for those LEPs in need of both critical and routine medical care. Making sure that every patient feels heard, listened to, and communicated with is the cornerstone to promoting good health care practices, helping keep hospital admissions down, and taking unnecessary pressure off hospital waiting rooms by allowing people to feel comfortable approaching primary care service providers. . This is a nationwide issue, and every available support should be in place.

Minimizing Misinformation

In our blog ‘The Final Rule: Revoking Health Care Protections for Limited English Proficient Individuals’ we discussed the reversal of many protections for LEP people within our communities. There are more than 25 million people living in the United States who don’t understand English at all or don’t speak it well. There’s an undeniable need for the greater provision of public health information for these individuals. Back in March, at a time when the public was in greatest need of up-to-date, accurate information, Buzzfeed news interviewed Rep Grace Meng, Chair of ASPIRE PAC about this issue:

“What happens when you don’t have translations, is that what we’re seeing, for example, in the Chinese community, in the Bangladeshi community we have many people who are not able to read or watch mainstream media outlets and they are getting false information from God knows where,” Meng said. “But it is in-language and so they are believing it.”

Sadly, this was in response to ‘The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America’ being released in just one language: English. Only through grassroots and local translation efforts didAsian and Spanish-speaking individuals gain access to this vital information. Following public pressure, the White House subsequently released their guidance in Spanish through Twitter. 

However, this is not an issue just for LEPs and their families; this should concerning for every American who believes in a fair, inclusive society that enables us to work together towards the greater good. Each of our LEP neighbors also wishes to protect their families and their communities, yet face uncertainty and even misinformation in their own language due to a lack of adequate official guidance. It’s up to government and healthcare systems in partnership with LSPs and community organizations to ensure everyone has the right tools and resources to participate in our fight against COVID 19. 

How Language Service Providers (LSPs) Help

In our article ‘Resilience In The Face Of Hardship’, we discussed the dedication of public sector translators and some of the situations these selfless individuals place themselves in in order to help others. At PGLS, our multilingual translators are focused on the health, safety, and wellbeing of LEPs both in our community and around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic now shows signs of a second wave moving across Europe, with 31.4 million cases and over 966,000 deaths worldwide. With the United States facing the highest total number of confirmed cases at 6.5 million and the most overall deaths,; it’s never been more critical to find a path out of the woods together, by ensuring that each and every one of us is part of the conversation, whether we all speak English or not. More important than English or Spanish or Zulu is the language of compassion..

PGLS is dedicated to the full inclusion of all US residents, regardless of language proficiency in every aspect of American life. Contact us today to find out how we can help your organization work towards making this a reality.

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PGLS – Every Word Matters

Based in the greater Washington, D.C. area with team members across the world, Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS) leverages nearly 25 years of language service experience to consistently deliver on-time, accurate, and personalized language service solutions to numerous companies and government agencies. Backed by our industry-leading processes and resources, PGLS offers Translation, Interpretation, Transcription, Language Training, and Localization in more than 450 language combinations.

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