Everyone should have the right to critical services, from the hospital to the courtroom to the classroom, in their own language. While language access for speakers of larger languages like Spanish and Chinese has improved markedly in recent decades — although there are still substantial gaps — provision for speakers of smaller languages is often non-existent.
For the past decade, ELA has been working with city agencies, policymakers, researchers and communities to improve access to translation and interpretation services for vulnerable communities who speak smaller languages. While our capacity is limited, whenever possible, we connect government agencies — especially courts — who are seeking translators in less common languages with speakers who are part of our network. The largest translation companies are generally for-profit companies which use translators and interpreters, especially of smaller languages, as part-time, poorly paid independent contractors, ELA works to give referrals, make connections, and build capacity, without taking a cut, with the aim of improving the situation for speakers of smaller languages.
An important step in this direction came in February 2020, with the first-ever Indigenous Interpreters Workshop, co-organized with La Red, FIOB, and CIELO, bringing together dozens of intepreters of Indigenous Latin American languages in New York for a weekend of training, discussion, and skill-sharing.
Working with speakers and communities, ELA also frequents records public service announcements or translates materials into languages where no other information is available. For several years, ELA has been producing some of the only audio-visual materials in languages of Indigenous Latin American immigrants in New York, beginning with a series of short ¡Conozca sus derechos! (Know your rights) messages in Nahuatl, Mixtec, Me’phaa (Tlapanec), and K’iche’, which were the first of their kind and widely shared across legal aid organizations and other peer to peer groups.
On International Mother Language Day 2020, an opportunity to celebrate all of the world’s approximately 7,000 languages, ELA and the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs announced the release of a first-ever set of 15 official videos in Indigenous and minority languages for The City of New York. Messages were recorded (inside City Hall!) about IDNYC, the municipal ID program that serves over 1.5 million New Yorkers, a large number of them immigrants — in languages that, for the most part, have never been used in official city materials or been given this kind of acknowledgment. The 15 languages represented are from all over the world — from Indigenous Latin American languages like Mixtec and Kichwa to stateless languages like Yiddish, Fulani, and Tibetan.