How to Use Interpreters to Break the Language Barrier

By Gabriel Soltren, MPA, Florida Public Relations Association Orlando Area Chapter Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

Did you know that residents in the Orlando area speak more than 100 languages? Local government agencies have identified approximately 160 languages spoken in the schools and in the courts. In 2015, the top 5 languages spoken by people in the Orlando area were English, Spanish, French Creole, Vietnamese and Portuguese. More than 35 percent of citizens spoke a primary language other than English. The most common other language was Spanish.

In 2019, people in the Orlando area were 32 percent Hispanic according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Specifically 96,000 people in Orange County spoke Spanish as their primarily language according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice. That number was larger than the populations of Kissimmee, Sanford or Daytona Beach. In response, the Ninth Circuit Court in Orlando has provided from 17,000 to 20,000 simultaneous interpreting services in Spanish  every year. 

Simultaneous Interpreting

In addition to the courts, simultaneous interpreters are often used by professionals in hospitals, governments and the United Nations. Heads of state and governors often use simultaneous interpreters when visiting foreign countries and during press conferences. The interpreter’s work can be also done behind the scenes, virtually and in isolation using microphones and headsets.

During the 2020 pandemic, vital information in Spanish was inadequate in the Orlando area. Press conferences often relied on journalists to interpret vital information into Spanish. As a result, people in the Spanish speaking community received less information than people in the English speaking community.

During a pandemic, agencies have to communicate vital information to the public in an accurate and timely manner. Timely communication would help to better address the concerns of people in the community. According to an ABC news poll, 81 percent of people in the Hispanic community were worried that their family members would get COVID-19, compared with 58 percent of people in the White community. Further research indicated that people in the Hispanic community contracted higher percentages of COVID-19. For example, in the state of Florida people in the Hispanic community were 27 percent of the population and 37 percent of COVID-19 cases according to data from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Interpreting Resources

Language barriers can be broken with professional interpreting services. Interpreters could be hired in-house and freelancers contracted when needed. As a resource, the Ninth Circuit Court in Orlando provides a directory of certified freelance interpreters. Founded in 1982, LanguageLine Solutions has thousands of interpreters available in 240 languages. Professional development and training provider Wurts Language Services has provided best practices for groups in the field of health and human services for years. Orlando agencies including Camelo Communication and Eleven 11 Communications have expertise communicating with people in the Hispanic community. Wouldn’t the cost of providing simultaneous interpreting be a small investment to provide vital information to almost 100,000 Orlando area citizens that primarily speak Spanish?


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