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How to call 911 if you don't speak English


Olga Derkach

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Imagine that you are calling 911 during an emergency, but the operator is trying in vain to understand you. And the problems are not with communication - it's just that the operator does not speak your language. Such a scenario should never happen under any circumstances. Everyone should be able to confidently rely on 911 no matter what language they speak. Company TransPerfect Connect, which provides translation services for emergency calls, explained how this process works and what needs to be done to connect an interpreter to the call.

The United States has always been and remains a country of people who speak different languages. According to the 2020 US Census, 8,3% of people over the age of five living in the United States speak "not very good" English. That's a lot of people who might find it difficult to communicate effectively with an English-speaking emergency operator. And that doesn't include the 79 million foreign tourists who visited the US in 2019 alone.

With this demand for multilingual phone interpreters in the emergency sector, 911 call centers and local emergency providers must do everything they can to optimize their services.

TransPerfect Connect provides telephone interpretation services for emergency services.

In order to have an interpreter connected to your call, you need to call the emergency number and say the English name of the language you speak. For Russian, this is russian.

You will then have to wait a few seconds (minutes in some cases) until you are connected to an interpreter. The service provides translation services in almost 200 languages ​​of the world, so do not be afraid that you will not be understood.

Why translators are so important

You probably already know what emergency interpreters are and what their role is, but it's worth reiterating why they play a vital role in handling emergency calls.

911 interpreters work by telephone (OPI) and are specially trained to handle emergency calls. OPI translators must communicate quickly and effectively.

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Usually OPI translators are highly qualified linguists. They connect to emergency calls to get important information from the caller and respond to their requests for help. It is essentially a role similar to the standard emergency call handler, but with the specific purpose of interpreting languages ​​other than English.

Why 911 interpreters are becoming more important

The demand for translators is growing

Communities in the US are changing. The non-English speaking population is growing rapidly, which means that the demand for emergency interpreters is increasing as well. According to the 2015 US Census, over 25 million people living in the US speak English "not very well". The sooner emergency services and call centers respond to these demands, the better they can handle emergencies coming from all kinds of non-English speaking callers.

They provide better call handling

Emergency interpreters receive high-quality training that teaches them effective emergency response techniques. With advanced language skills, the interpreter communicates the right information to the right emergency services, and responds accurately and effectively to an emergency.

Interpreters are specially trained to talk on the phone

Training for emergency telephone interpretation services is specific because OPI interpreters need to adapt to specific tasks. In addition to solving difficult situations on the spot, they need to translate without any visual perception or nuance. Among other things, they are familiar with slang expressions, idioms, unusual verbal expressions. Therefore, the translation will be 100% correct and reliable.

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Not all local emergency call centers can afford full-time interpreters

As local emergency centers operate on a tight budget, OPI's in-house training is likely not planned – and so is the hiring of in-house emergency interpreters. Sometimes the only way out is to hire experienced and specially trained telephone interpreters from reputable translation services and agencies.

911 dispatchers can't speak all possible languages

Emergency dispatchers work as the first point of action for any emergency throughout the country. However, you cannot expect all emergency call center staff to speak multiple languages. This is where translators come to the rescue.

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