Language Diversity Amongst Indigenous Populations

It’s commonly known that Spanish is the second most spoken language in the United States. The promise of work and “una vida tranquila” (a quiet life) attract Spanish speakers from many parts of the world. Here in Kentucky much of the available jobs are in the horse industry or connected to the tourist dollars it brings (hotels, restaurants). For those that come with little to no knowledge of the Spanish language, so much of what life here in Kentucky has to offer may be closed off to them due to the language barrier.

Most people assume that a person from Mexico or Guatemala would be fluent in Spanish, but that often is not the case. There are many indigenous villages, often remote, where the native language is spoken exclusively. Formal education—that might have included Spanish—has not been available to them. Their life needs are no different than any other member of their country yet they find themselves in a strange land with a strange language. In their case, there are very few people who can understand them and linguistic services in their preferred languages are very difficult to come by.

Onsite interpreting, apart from perhaps in a court setting, is nearly impossible to come by for these languages. Recently, for the Mixteco need we were able to use the services of a friend of the patient who spoke Spanish and Mixteco Alto—along with a qualified Spanish interpreter who was present during the appointment. This is called relay interpreting, which is when the interpreter listens to the source language speaker and renders the message into a language common to all the other interpreters in the meeting. For a funny take on relay interpreting, also known as directing interpreting, watch this YouTube Video.

Here are some of the indigenous languages we have encountered in the Bluegrass:

  • From Mexico: Chatino (there are 3 distinct forms), Mixteco Alto, Mixteco Bajo, Tlapeneco, Tzeltal
  • From Guatemala:  Akateco, Chuj, Ixil, Mam, Q’anjobal, Quiché, Q’eqchi

In the past, Access Language Solutions was asked to provide a phone interpreter in Chuj for an immigration clinic customer. The interpreter informed us that there were two versions of Chuj and, luckily, what he spoke and what the customer’s client spoke were the same. The needs were able to be met in the preferred language during the hour-long phone conversation.

Since it can be difficult, you might wonder where such interpreters can be found. LinkedIn is often a good resource in our experience. There are interpreters that have been vetted in order to provide linguistic services in the court setting, either onsite, by phone or via video. The Language Access division of Kentucky’s Administrative Office of the Courts has responded to the linguistic need by adding Chuj, Q’anjobal, Kaqchiquel, and Quiché interpreters to their roster. Other states also list indigenous languages of Mexico and Guatemala on their state’s court Internet pages. Access Language Solutions has contracted with a company that operates a call center in Guatemala with access to trained indigenous language interpreters.

Access Language Solutions is dedicated to providing language access to all regardless of the linguistic need. We have contracted with several individual interpreters as well as a call center in Guatemala. Contact us to arrange phone or video services in these and other indigenous languages from Mexico and Guatemala.

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