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Evanston's Language Access Policy

03/09/2018 10:13 PM | Thais Passos Fonseca

Evanston's Language Access Policy

By Daina Jauntirans, MATI Treasurer

"Think globally, act locally," goes the old adage. And last November, the global translation community alerted me to an issue in my own backyard. In November 2017, I was sitting at my computer typing away as usual. Like many of us, I had Facebook open, since I follow several translation groups on that platform. Before long, I noticed several notifications and private messages from colleagues popping up. As it turns out, a fellow translator halfway across the world in Berlin had read an article entitled "Panel Learns Translation Isn't Cheap" in a small, local online publication. The article outlined a municipal government's difficulties in deciding how to provide translation and interpretation services to non-English speakers. The town? Evanston, Illinois: my hometown.

After reading the article, I understood the outcry from fellow translators and interpreters. A city staff member had apparently been quoted a price found by many professionals who read the story to be exorbitant for a three-page Spanish translation. The participants in the Human Services Committee meeting to discuss language access knew that the city's commitment to equity required them to extend language services to refugees and other non-native speakers, but seemed unsure of how to do so. Which documents should be translated? How should the cost be determined? Should interpreting be provided? By phone or in person? Should city staff be asked to interpret? In addition, citizen comments on the various articles about the meeting included a "greatest hits" of translation don'ts: high school students could translate, college students could interpret, Google Translate would save the city money...

Clearly, some education and advice from our industry was needed. Several professional translators from all over the country both commented on the articles and wrote letters to the city offering corrections ranging from the use of the terms "translation" and "interpretation" to the importance of using qualified language service providers. City staff was also alerted to the existence of professional organizations like MATI.

I was among those to contact Evanston's city government. In speaking to our town's Equity Coordinator, I learned that work on a language access policy was already underway by a committee composed of staff who deal with the public and have dealt with translation and interpretation issues in some way. The first step was to determine need, although it was pretty clear from the information available that the front runner in terms of languages was Spanish. Community partners such as educational institutions, hospitals, the library, and a community health center - institutions that already provide language services - were being contacted to determine how they provide those services and whether resources could be pooled.

Fortunately, it was my impression that my city is very interested in having professional translators and interpreters contribute their expertise to the process of determining Evanston's language policies. The industry can be a resource, not just in terms of language knowledge and translation and interpretation skills, but on issues such as QA, the role of technology, and others. I look forward to following this process in my town and will be happy to provide updates as progress is made.


A native speaker of English and Latvian, Daina Jauntirans (through her business, Mozaika Language Services, Inc.) specializes in German-to-English translation of corporate communications, financial reporting, marketing and related material. She has an MA in Translation from Monterey (now Middlebury) Institute of International Studies and currently holds several non-profit volunteer positions, including serving as treasurer on the MATI board. Contact:


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