Language access

Identifying spoken language

Languages that you have never heard before might be hard to identify—an important first step in finding an interpreter! There are a few strategies to try.

Language identification cards & posters

If you are working in person with a survivor who is unable to tell you the English name for their language, but may be able to recognize their own written language, start with language identification cards or posters.

“I Speak” cards are commonly used and can identify approximately 38 languages in both the foreign language and in English. Some language identification posters (more here) have a similar format. To be most effective, the cards or posters should invite survivors to identify to you which languages they speak.

Over-the-phone interpretation or “language lines”

Generally, when you use over-the-phone-interpretation (OPI), you dial toll-free number and provide your account information. You are immediately asked for which language you need interpretation, or the “targeted language.” If you do not know the name of the language and cannot identify it, the service can help you. Once the language has been identified, you are transferred to an interpreter. See “Interpreters” for more information on OPI services.

Language banks

Language banks have been developed by several organizations around the country. Volunteers and staff from throughout the community serve in a “bank” of interpreters who agree to be “on call” when language access services are needed. Language banks that have a coordinator or other central contact point may be able to assist advocates to identify a survivor’s spoken language. See “Interpreters” for current examples of language banks.