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What Would You Do: The Case Of The Language Barrier

Language Barrier

The NNA Hotline receives hundreds of calls daily from Notaries nationwide who find themselves in challenging situations. To boost your knowledge of Notary best practices, we’ve created a series of scenarios based on actual situations and ask a simple question: What would you do? 

You’re just about to close up shop when a signer comes in requesting a simple notarization. She speaks to you in perfect English with a lovely French accent, while you gather your journal and seal from its secured place beneath the counter.  

As you begin the notarization process, you look closely at the documents requiring notarization and realize they are entirely in French. Sacre bleu!

Despite your three years of high school French, you are unable to make out much of what the document says. Your signer offers to translate it for you, if that’s necessary. So, the question is…

What would you do?
 

Do you go through with the notarization of foreign-language documents?

To participate in this week’s “What Would You Do?” scenario, share your answer in the comments section below. We may mention your response in next week’s Bulletin, when we offer the best possible answer(s) to this notarial challenge.

Kelle Clarke is a Contributing Editor with the National Notary Association.

58 Comments

Add your comment

Carol

20 Jul 2015

I would notarize this document because I do speak French but for those that don't I suggest the document be translated at their expense or they can go to the French consulate and have it done there

Sarah

20 Jul 2015

I would notarize the document as long as the notary wording is in English and I and the signer can communicate.

Carol Logan

20 Jul 2015

I would never notarize a document written in a language I couldn't understand. I would recommend the signer get a French speaking notary.

Ollie

20 Jul 2015

If I cannot determine what kind/type of certificate is being used--end of story. I would refer them to an attorney.

Roselind

20 Jul 2015

We are not notarizing the content of the document,but only the signer's signature and their verification, It is nor our business to read the content

Triidad C. Vasquez

20 Jul 2015

AS LONG AS WE CAN COMMUNICATE WITH THE PERSON SIGNING THE DOCUMENT YES WE CAN NOTARIZE THE PERSONS SIGNATURE.

James Witthar

20 Jul 2015

Notarizing a document which you cannot read is like signing a blank check. You don't Know what your liabilities are. (You could, for example, be certifying that all of the information provided in the document is true and correct, a common feature of many non U.S. notarial statements.) My suggestion would be to have the presenter obtain an a copy of the document in a language in which you are fluent. You would, if appropriate, be able to notarize a signed translation. In the case of a foreign national, another way to solve the problem would be to refer the presenter to their nation's consulate or embassy. Such facilities often provide such services for their citizens. My business is close to Washington DC where almost all nations are represented. Of course that may not be a practical solution for all areas of the country

Tina Duong

20 Jul 2015

In California the notarial document and the signing page have to be in English. However, it won't be easy to detect fraud so it's probably best to not perform the notarization. Also the notarization might not be accepted in the other country.

Dianne

20 Jul 2015

You first need to know what the document is saying. If it is for the purpose of getting a monthly pension distribution, the "Live" document can be notarized, but we need to advise the document signer that they will need to get the apostille through the county

Bridgette Grizoffi

20 Jul 2015

Ask the signer what type of notarization they need and attach a loose certificate. We are not required to understand the document, only scan for completeness and verify signers identity.

Barbara White

20 Jul 2015

If the document is headed for France, it would need an Appostille issued by the Secretary of State's office. (In Arizona, not sure who issues this in other states.) The document needs to be translated into English for the notarization to take place in the US, that translation is notarized and attached to the original language document. (I believe this is the correct answer.)

Tina Wallace

20 Jul 2015

I would have to refuse to notarize the document since I don't read French and therefore don't know what it says.

MisterJ

20 Jul 2015

This goes back to the question of notarizing documents from other countries. Decline the notarization and have them go to their embassy or consulate.

Shannah Henry

20 Jul 2015

I believe that we are still able to notarize a document in a foreign language since we don't have to know what it says but only make sure that its complete without any blank spaces and then we attach our acknowledgement form in English.

Monica Sanchez

20 Jul 2015

I believe the first thing I would do is go to the computer and put in the document title in a translation site. Once I have verified that it corresponds to the types of documents that we are allowed to Notarize, I would either Notarize her signature alone or decline based on the State Secretary's parameters of allowable documents. There are also organizations that you can scan an image over to them and they can translate the document for you as well. That being said, as long as your client is amenable to that.

Barbara

20 Jul 2015

I would decline notarizing this document. I cannot notarize a document I don't understand and cannot read for myself.

Lori Lasley

20 Jul 2015

Of course I would go through with the notarization. As long as the signer can positively identify herself, and we are able to communicate in English, the language of what she is signing is not my concern.

Anna Gutierrez

20 Jul 2015

Yes! You can go through the notarization of foreign-language documents. With this type of request, I ask the signer if there is a venue, today's date or earlier (but not a future date), statement, ensure there are no blanks, and ask the signer which type of certificate they would like to use -- jurat or acknowledgment. I make sure to add in my journal add'l information that the document was in a different language.

Dawn

20 Jul 2015

If you do not understand the language it is written in then you do not know what you are notarizing. I would help or suggest they find a notary who can help them.

Paul Maldonado

20 Jul 2015

Either find a third party translator that can translate the document to English or refuse the notarization.

Pat Abeyta

20 Jul 2015

I would notarize the document, since my duty is not to verify the contents of the document, but to verify the identity of the person signing the document.

Gloria Wilson

20 Jul 2015

I may do it, but will also used my stamp stating verify 'signature only' or I will just refuse too sign.

Jennifer

20 Jul 2015

I'm new, just passed the test and haven't even received my commission yet - from what I learned I'm thinking it's okay to notarize it depending on where it's going to be filed, right?

kathyP

20 Jul 2015

Can't notarize if don't know what you are notarizing and/or if there are blanks. kathy

katrina martinez

20 Jul 2015

Taking a high school French class in my opinion, is not enough experience to translate official documents. I would decline service and request the documents to be translated to english. My 1st language is English and I have been speaking Spanish for over 10 years I notorize Spanish documents. However, sometimes with embassy documents some wording they use is high end, not everyday words one would use, therefore I enlist a native speaker at my place of business to translate certain words if it is outside my vocabulay. I am fortunate to own my own busineas and work along side my apouse who is a native Spanish speaker. He is someone I trust completely therefore I will notorize a Spanish doc with him translating. For any other language which I have done Arabic an English translation done by a professional translator must be present.

Ray Cote

20 Jul 2015

I do not think it matters what language the document is in. As a lay person you can not offer legal advice to a signer and all you can do is witness his/her signature. That's your primary function as a notary public.

Dottie L. Dean-Webster

20 Jul 2015

I would, if time permitted, type it into Google for a translation; call in the local French teacher or, if the other two did not work, refuse to notarize

Tara

20 Jul 2015

Yes, you can notarize as you don't necessarily need to know what the document is saying. However if there is a language barrier between the two of you then that's another story, at least in CA .

Bobby J King

20 Jul 2015

My answer would be : I am not bi-lingual. the law does not authorize me to notarize this document. therefore I refuse to notarize. This also applies to the French documents.

renardo sarvis

20 Jul 2015

I am not able to do this closing as I do not understand the language in which it is written.

Bobby J kING

20 Jul 2015

I would refuse to sign the document. I do not know French. Thank you for asking.

Chris

20 Jul 2015

I had a client present me with a document in Turkish. He was fluent in English. The contents of the document were not important to me, but the content of the notarial certificate was. I told him that I could only notarize a certificate in English, or I could direct him to a notary that was fluent in Turkish. He asked me to perform a specific type of notarization, and I attached an appropriate loose certificate in English and performed the notarization. If he had offered to translate the notarial certificate, I would have declined; that is because notaries are personally liable for the notarizations they perform, and since the client was not an impartial witness, I could would not have been able to verify the translation.

Jane

20 Jul 2015

I would refuse to notarize the document

Sue Barton

20 Jul 2015

You may notarize a document written in a foreign language as long as you can communicate in English with the signer, and they have to sign in English. They also have to tell you whether or not is a jurat or an acknowledgement.

Julie Brickley

20 Jul 2015

I come across this scenario all the time. By Colorado state law, I can notarize the document provided: 1.) I can communicate directly with the signer (in my case English or Russian) and 2.) The notary statement is in a language I understand (also English or Russian) and also in English. I scan the documents for blanks (lines and colons are the same in all languages) and look for the signers name throughout the document. I ask the signer if they know what the document is in regards to. As a security against fraud, I scan the document using Google Translate to see if what they told me is accurate (Title, first paragraph, etc.). So long as they can present ID acceptable by state laws, I proceed with the notarization.

Catherine pick

20 Jul 2015

I happen to be a Certified French translator and often need to have my translations notarized for the client, usually per request of the administration or organization requesting the notarized translation. The notary cannot certify the translation but can certify my certificate of accurate and professional translation, which is a bilingual document (English/French) I prepare for the notary. The notary can notarize that certificate, but does not notarize or certify the content of my translation. This applies to any foreign language document. In this case, as a public notary in California, I would request the nice French person to kindly write a statement in which he/she states the nature of the attached document in French. I will notarize her signature on the statement but will advise that person that this might not be what the organization is requesting and that she might want to check with the organization whether they need the document translated by a certified or professional translator.

Denise

20 Jul 2015

As a notary, you are only verifying the signer's identity and not the contents of the documents. As long as there are not blanks in the document and the notary certificate is in English, then I would notarize.

Victoria

20 Jul 2015

It is possible that rules vary from state to state. In CA, we can perform the notarization. Since I can communicate with the signer in English I'm clear there. I scan the document for completeness and if that checks out move ahead with the identifying my signer. The notarial wording would need to be in English and if it was not and the signer knew what type of notarization they needed I would use a loose certificate and complete the transaction.

Steven J Block

20 Jul 2015

If the document appeared to be complete, and the signer and I can communicate and proves to me her identity, I would complete an Acknowledgment (in English) and attach it to the French document.

Steven J Block

20 Jul 2015

If the document appeared to be complete, and the signer and I can communicate and proves to me her identity, I would complete an Acknowledgment (in English) and attach it to the French document.

Jacqueline Burke

20 Jul 2015

I would sign the documents, how do you know for sure what you are notarizing. This doesn't make any sense, even though your and the person can communicate well, what is written in the documents can be fake, now you just motorize something that you have no clue what is written in the document.

Deborah Hyman

21 Jul 2015

I notarize a person's SIGNING a document, not the documents contents -- as we have been told/taught: we are not attorneys and cannot decide what a document should contain. I ask the signer to swear that s/he is aware/cognizant of the document's content and that signing the document does make it an officially legal document. As long as presented IDs appear to be the real deal and the person seems to be "happy" to be signing [I have yet to have someone annoyed!], I don't have to know the complete contents of the document --not my job!

Suha khatib

21 Jul 2015

You don't have to know what's in the document. As long as the person sign the document in front of you.

David Kunkler

21 Jul 2015

according to the Ohio Notary guidelines, yes you can notarize this document as long as the qualifications are met such as proper I.D. etc. The document can be in a foreign language that you do not speak/read.

Deborah

21 Jul 2015

If I couldn't determine what type of document it was, I would refer them to French Consulate for service.

Cheryl Studley

21 Jul 2015

As a California Notary, I would notarize the document as long as the document signature is in English and the notarial wording is in English and is in compliance with the required wording for the state of California. Appropriate ID would also be required. You are not required to be able to read the document. You are notarizing the signature and not the document or the signer's capacity.

Dawn

21 Jul 2015

Colorado Notary Law allows a Notary to notarized a document in a foreign language provided the Notorial Certificate is in English. As a Notary, we are not verifying the documents content, we are confirming the signature of the signer. I would do additional due diligence by asking what the document is in regard to for my notary book and confirm this with google translator, but solely because my commissioning employer requires this.

Richard Pira

21 Jul 2015

I would notarize the document as long is translated in english and verifying what the signer says is true and correct on another paper...

L. E. Casey

21 Jul 2015

There is nothing in the California Notary manual that says that I have to understand the document that I notarize. So long as the certificate is in English, or the signer can communicate with me in a language I understand, I would notarize the document. If the certificate is not in English or it isn't present, I would ask the signer what type of notarization he/she requires, Acknowledgment or Jurat, and proceed with the notarization.

Joan A. Baffa

22 Jul 2015

There must be a direct communication between the Notary Public and the signer. I would notarize the document as long as the signer could properly communicate it's meaning (to make certain that I'm not certifying anything), the notarial wording was in English, the ID of the signer was decipherable to me, and the venue was in English. I would also make certain that the details regarding the language barrier were properly noted in my journal.

Xavier Jaime

22 Jul 2015

I would first verify that the document is complete, no blank spaces, and proceed with the notarization. We are notarizing the signature and not the contents of the document. As long as i can properly id the signer.

MisterJ

22 Jul 2015

For those saying "we are just notarizing the signature," what if it is a document that actually requires an apostille, or requires notarization by a civil law notary and not a notary public.... but you don't realize it because you don't know what the document is? In that case, you just performed an invalid notarization!

Tracie

26 Jul 2015

Read our new notary acknowledgment language and it will tell you.

Jancie E Grannan

28 Jul 2015

First of all you need to be able to communicate with the person asking for the notary. They have to tell you what type of Acknowledgement they need (Jurat or Acknowledgement). If they get passed this you are notarizing that they are the person signing and must prove that with the proper identification. This is for a notary in the state of California.

Kima Kirakosyan

02 Aug 2015

I'll notarize the document, because I'm notarizing the signature, not what in the text of the document. I don't care what language it's. The signer is responsible for the text.

Isabel

12 Aug 2015

In California we need to be careful specially if you don't speak Spanish or other language. The document can said that the notary testify or have another wording that can compromise the Notary specially if the document is done in another country where is a lawyer who can prepare and notarize the document. Is not our business to know the context of the document but as a Notary we need to know what we sign, right?

Vivian

28 May 2019

Can foreigner who visiting in the US sign witness on Will (written in English) without knowing any English? This is possible?

National Notary Association

28 May 2019

Hello. We're sorry but this is a legal question that would need to be answered by an attorney.

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