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Quiz: Foreign Languages

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 tongue you aren't fluent in. Take our quiz to see if you know the best way to resolve foreign language issues during a notarization.




1. If a signer requesting a notarization does not speak English:
A. You must always refuse the notarization
B. You may proceed if you are fluent in the signer's language and all other requirements for notarization are met
C. You may proceed if someone else translates for you and the signer
D. You must proceed to avoid discrimination, even if you and the signer can't communicate directly

Answer: B. (For Arizona Notaries, the correct answer is C.) A 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. While translators generally aren't permitted between a signer and a Notary because a translator might misrepresent what either the signer or Notary is saying, Arizona statute authorizes the use of translators.

2. When requesting a notarization, as a best practice signers should:
A. Sign their name on the document using their native language
B. Sign their name on the document in the presence of a witness if they cannot speak English
C. Sign their name on the document only using letters and characters that the Notary can read and understand
D. Swear an oath of truthfulness if they do not 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 Arizona, state law requires that a Notary 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 as a Notary 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 an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.


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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.

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