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Foreign Language Tips

foreign-language.jpgHave you ever been in a country where you didn't speak the language and needed to ask for directions? If you thought that was tough, try dealing with a signer who only speaks a language you don't understand, or notarizing a document in a language you can't read. As the September quiz demonstrates, foreign language issues cause confusion — but we can help you properly navigate them.

Speaking With The Signer
Notarization requires direct communication with a signer — which can be a problem if you and the signer have a language barrier. However, if you speak multiple languages, there's no requirement that a notarization be conducted in English — if you and the signer both understand Spanish, for example, you can speak to each other in that language and the problem is solved.

However, in every state except Arizona, Notaries are prohibited from using a third-party interpreter to communicate with signers during notarizations. Unless you're an Arizona Notary, if the signer can't speak with you directly in a language you understand, the best course is to refer the signer to a Notary who is fluent in the signer's language.

Dealing With Foreign-Language Documents
Another foreign-language challenge is being presented with a document drafted in a language you can't read. In this situation there is no way to know if the document contains misinformation or is being misrepresented in some way to you or the signer. As a general rule in most states you may notarize a document written in a language you aren't fluent in, but the notarial certificate must be in a language you can read.

It's a recommended best practice to have a signer sign the document using characters or an alphabet you can read and understand, since the signed name could be different than what you are told.

Arizona is a special case because it has detailed rules in place when notarizing for foreign-language speakers and documents. Arizona only permits notarization if the signer writes his or her name in a language you understand and the certificate wording is also in a language you can read.

The state's Notary Public Reference Manual also says you must be able to read enough of the main body of the document to describe the document in your journal, or you must refuse the notarization. If you and the signer do not speak a language in common, Arizona permits the signer to use an interpreter who is physically present to communicate with you.

If someone asks for their signature to be notarized on a translation of a document from another language, Arizona Notaries must obtain a sworn or affirmed affidavit from the translator stating that the document was translated accurately and completely. This affidavit and the translation must be attached to the original-language document.

Some signers ask Notaries to certify that a translation of a document is accurate. You are not permitted to "certify" the accuracy of a translation, nor may you notarize your own signature under any circumstance. However, if a third-party translator signs a written declaration that he or she has translated a document accurately, you may notarize the translator's signature on the declaration, provided all other requirements for notarization are met.

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

View All: Best Practices

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