Interpreters in a Polyglot City

It is not surprising that one of the most populated cities in the world is a melting pot of cultural variety. According to the Department of City Planning of NY, New York has the largest Puerto Rican population of any city in the world, as well as more Dominicans than any other city in the world, with the exception of Santo Domingo. Over 3 million of New York City’s residents are immigrants born outside of the United States, and one half of all New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home, with an estimated 200 different languages spoken in the city.

With these numbers it is easy to see how much of a language barrier there can be with such a variety of backgrounds, and as much as the population finds a way to communicate in English, it is not always a viable way for many who simply don’t understand or can speak the language. Now, this is not something absolutely necessary in several scenarios and people still manage to find jobs and make a living without the need of communicating in English. But what happens when you have an emergency and need to dial 911, what do you do? There is an increasingly number of cases being reported by non-English speakers where they were denied the right to an interpreter for their emergencies, some of these resulting in fatalities. According to the New York Times, even though New York City’s police force has become considerably diverse, with over 15,000 staff members speaking a language other than English, the department has fallen short when responding to non-English speakers.

But New York City is not the only city where the importance of an interpreter is undermined, and it is important to understand just why having access to an interpreter in these cases is so vital. An interpreter’s job is not only to perform an instant translation, but to allow for seamless communication. An interpreter is not a luxury; it’s a key component for bridging the gap between cultures, and in the case of the police department, he or she might be the difference between life and death.

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