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Notary Bulletin

Quiz: Foreign Languages

It’s easy to get tripped up when a signer doesn’t speak your language or part of a document is written in characters you can’t read. Take our quiz to test your knowledge of proper procedures when encountering foreign languages in a notarization.




1. If a document is written in a foreign language, it may be notarized if:
A. The signer and Notary can communicate directly without an interpreter
B. The notarial certificate is in a language the Notary can read and understand
C. The signature on the document is written in a language the Notary can read and understand
D. All of the above requirements are met

Answer: D. When a document is written in a foreign language the Notary does not understand, there is always a risk because the Notary cannot be 100 percent sure the document’s purpose is being accurately represented. However, if the signer and Notary can communicate directly and the Notary can read and understand the notarial certificate as well as the signer’s signature, then the document may be notarized. However, Notaries should be alert for any other indications of fraud and stop the notarization at any sign something illegal is taking place.

2. If you and a signer speak different languages and cannot understand each other:
A. A third-party interpreter must translate
B. The signer must find a Notary fluent in the signer’s language instead
C. An attorney must witness the notarization for it to be legal
D. The notarization can be performed if another family member OKs it

Answer: B. Direct communication between the Notary and signer is necessary for every notarization. Only in Arizona may Notaries communicate with signers through an interpreter. In all other states, an intepreter may not be used because the Notary cannot be certain the interpreter is accurately conveying information between the Notary and signer. Similarly, it’s not safe to rely on the voucher of an attorney, family member or other third party that the signer is willing; third parties might benefit from misrepresenting the signer’s intent. If the signer and Notary can’t communicate directly, the signer must be referred to a Notary who fluently speaks the signer’s language.

3. If someone signs their name using foreign characters that you cannot read:
A. The notarization cannot be performed using that signature
B. The notarization should still be performed anyway using that signature
C. The signer must take an oath or affirmation the signature is accurate
D. The signer must print their address and phone number next to the signature

Answer: A. If someone signs using foreign-language characters — for example, Cyrillic characters for Russian — the notarization cannot be performed if you cannot read the signature writing, because there’s no way for you to know if the person has signed their correct name. To notarize, the signer must re-sign the document in a language you can read.

4. True or False. Some states require applicants to demonstrate proficiency in English to be commissioned as Notaries.

Answer: True. While individual state requirements vary, states including Arizona, Michigan and Mississippi require applicants to be able to read and write English to receive a Notary commission.

5. True or False. Only Spanish-language speakers have been targeted by “Notario”-type scams.

Answer: False. Dishonest individuals offering fraudulent immigration assistance have targeted immigrants who speak a variety of languages. Spanish speakers are commonly targeted by con artists using the term “Notario,” which commonly refers to attorney-like legal professionals with different duties in Spanish-speaking countries. However, persons speaking other languages have been targeted by similar schemes and many states prohibit Notaries from advertising their services with any non-English translations of the title “Notary” or “Notary Public” to prevent unqualified persons from misrepresenting themselves as attorneys to signers.

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.

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