The US Census Bureau reports that over 350 languages are spoken in homes across the country. That’s a lot of different languages.
And while governments don’t have a mandate to be able to supply all of their communications in every language, they have to be making an effort to be inclusive and provide “meaningful access” to the needs of their constituents according to Executive Order 13166 passed by President Clinton in 2000.
So, what languages do you have to offer and what documents will need to be translated?
At LinguaLinx, as a Language Services Provider (LSP), these are two questions we’re used to helping our government clients with.
The first question, what languages to cater for, depends on the demographics of your population.
The second question, what documents do you need to translate, is an answer that ranges into more areas than you may think. This is what we’ll look at in this article so that if you’re heading up the translation side of a government department or agency, you know what to expect.
Documents tend to fall into three main categories:
Communications - The Message To The People
One of the main functions of any public service or elected office is to communicate to the people within their jurisdiction. Those people want to know what the bodies that are funded by their tax dollars are doing.
They want to know how their specific needs, and the needs of their family, can benefit from policies and services put in place.
Translating external comms sometimes needs a different approach to traditional translation. For marketing and advertising campaigns, transcreation is often necessary. This is when a creative concept is translated so that its intended meaning and impact on an audience is accurate.
It may well not mean translating word for word, which is why linguists with a creative agency background are necessary.
External communications that need the attention of a translation team are documents and media such as:
- Websites for public authorities.
- Digital platforms.
- Social media content.
- Press releases.
- Public service announcements (PSAs).
- Advertising – TV, radio, print, public and online.
- Signage and branding.
- Services information.
Legal - The Bedrock Of Policy
At the heart of government is a mandate to run communities, cities, counties, states and the whole country in a way that is agreed upon by the population as a whole.
The legal side of government dates as far back as democracy itself. Making sure everyone, regardless of their first language, understands what has been agreed by the majority, is fundamental to a democracy’s success.
Translating these documents can be tricky. They can have a language all their own. Time and attention need to be spent on them to make sure translations are correct. The breadth of documents that are encompassed in this area can be staggering.
A systematic approach with an LSP who’s used to such documentation is crucial.
The legal documents that governments tend to need translating include:
- Laws, policies and their amendments.
- Partnership agreements.
- Supplier and intergovernmental contracts.
- Official forms and reports.
- Immigration documentation and identification.
Administrative - The Engine Behind The Scenes
While this area may not be as public-facing as the other two, it’s still vital to the running of any government.
There are a lot of employees, officials and relationships with private businesses, other public sector organizations and members of the public, that all need to be managed.
If things are inaccurately translated behind the scenes, then the foundation for running our communities, which in the US are today more multi-cultural than ever, is destabilized.
We’d always suggest that you find an LSP who draws from a strong pool of linguists who have experience in the public sector.
The kind of documents that we see needing translating in this area are:
- Employee and government official contracts.
- Requests for proposals (RFPs) and invitations to tender.
- Operational manuals and handbooks.
- Internal comms and interdepartmental communication.
- Administrative documentation.
The Bottom Line
What we’ve covered here are high-level areas that need to be translated for public offices to work effectively and serve the people who, ultimately, put all elected officials in place.
Each of the areas can be drilled down further and there will be times when specialist languages need to be considered for a specific purpose. When those one-off languages will be considered part of “meaningful access” to an individual case.
For this reason, partnering with a good LSP gives you the flexibility to attend to the mainstream, while also having the agility to deal with specific one-off cases. It allows governments to be faithful to their commitment to serve the people, regardless of language barriers.
Get A Quote For Your Government Document Translation Needs
If you’re a government agency that needs documents translated, we’d love to sit down and talk with you about it.
With LinguaLinx, you won't ever have to worry about your message getting lost as it’s translated. You know you're in good hands as we’re ISO 17100 and ISO 9001 compliant, have over twenty years of professional translation experience, and have earned the trust of organizations around the world.
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