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Quiz: Foreign language barriers with notarizations

Updated 4-20-16. It's essential to know what steps to take if you meet a signer who doesn't speak your language or if you're asked to notarize a document written in a foreign language.Take our quiz to see if you know the best way to resolve foreign language issues during a notarization.




1. What states allow a signer to use an interpreter to speak with a Notary during a notarization?

A. All U.S. states allow interpreters for a notarization
B. California, Arizona and Florida
C. Arizona only
D. No state allows interpreters for a notarization

Answer: C. With the sole exception of Arizona, state laws don’t allow using translators to interpret between a signer and a Notary because a translator might misrepresent what either the signer or Notary is saying. In all other states, notarization requires direct communication between you and the signer. If you understand the signer's language well enough to communicate directly with the signer and the signer meets all other requirements such as having proper ID, you may proceed with the notarization.

2. Is it a good practice to notarize a signature written in a language you can’t read?

A. Yes, because a signer should always sign using their native language
B. Yes, but the NNA recommends having an interpreter present
C. No, because if you cannot read the signature there’s no way to confirm what is written there
D. No, unless the signer swears an oath or affirmation the signer doesn’t speak English

Answer: C.  Some signers may ask to have a signature notarized that's written in another language, such as Chinese characters or the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. But in order to properly notarize a signature, the NNA strongly recommends that you are able to read it. If the signer writes using characters you cannot read and understand, you have no way of knowing whether or not the signer has accurately signed their name on the document. In fact, one state — Arizona — requires that Notaries only perform a notarial act if the signer signs in a language that the Notary understands.

3. If a document is written in a foreign language you don't understand, you may proceed to notarize if:

A. The signer tells you what the contents of the document mean
B. A third-party interpreter reads the document and explains the content to you
C. The signer swears an oath or affirmation that the contents of the document are accurately represented to you
D. The signature and notarial certificate wording are both in a language you can read

Answer: D. Sometimes Notaries are asked to notarize a signature on a document and the main text of the document is written in a language you don't understand. You may notarize a signature on such a document if the signature and notarial certificate wording are both in a language you can read, and all other statutory requirements are met. (Arizona's Reference Manual also says that Notaries in that state should be able to read enough of the language to describe the document in the journal entry before proceeding.) Keep in mind that there is always a risk if you cannot read the document's language because there's no way for you to know if the document is being described accurately to you by the signer, and you will have to decide whether or not you're comfortable notarizing. If you feel comfortable enough to proceed with the notarization, be sure to note in your journal that the main body of the document was written in a different language. If you don't feel comfortable going ahead, you may refer the signer to a Notary fluent in the document's language.

4. If you are asked to certify the accuracy of a translation of a foreign-language document:

A. You may not do so
B. You may translate the document yourself and notarize the translator’s declaration
C. You may notarize a translator's signed declaration stating the translation is accurate
D. Both A and C

Answer: D. Notaries are not permitted to "certify" that a translation is accurate, and are not permitted to notarize their own signatures under any circumstances. However, if a third-party translator signs a written declaration that he or she has translated the document accurately, you may notarize the translator's signature on the declaration, provided all other requirements for notarization are met.

David Thun is the Assistant Managing Editor with the National Notary Association.

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Add your comment


12 Jan 2016

So if the Title or Signing company says that the borrower does not speak English but will have a translator there, we are supposed to refuse the job unless we live in Az?

National Notary Association

13 Jan 2016

Hello Karen. AZ is the only state that authorizes Notaries to use a third-party translator to interpret for a signer during a notarization. In other states Notaries may not use a translator to communicate with a signer whose language the Notary doesn't speak.

Dukens Mustiva

25 Apr 2016

The quiz is a good thing to do every time


25 Apr 2016

I'm not sure I agree with question #2. If the signature matches what is on the identification, I don't care what language it's in. Most English signatures just look like scribble too and I can't read them. I always match to the identification.

seth essenfeld

29 Apr 2016

California has new language relieving the Notary from determining the "truthfulness, accuracy, or validity of that document". Does this now mean we do not have to concern ourselves with this issue as long as the signature and notarial certificate are understandable?

National Notary Association

03 May 2016

Hello. California Notaries never have been required to certify the truthfulness, accuracy or validity of any document. That is well beyond the Notary’s limited authority.


26 Dec 2023

If the language in the document is English but the person speaks Spanish and I am bilingual, as long as they understand the contents in the document provided by an Agency, it is ok to notarize it?

National Notary Association

05 Jan 2024

Hello. To help us answer your question, can you please tell us what state you are commissioned in?


28 Mar 2024

Hello. Thank you for this great information. I am newly commissioned in Michigan. I have studied the statutes and looked high and low but cannot locate specific written information governing the use of translators in Michigan. Can you direct me to that information?

National Notary Association

09 Apr 2024

Michigan does not have a law or a regulation that addresses the use of an interpreter. However, it is a best course of practice not to use interpreters, and refer the signer to a Notary Public that speaks the same language as the signer.

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