The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

Local News

September 16, 2010

County Commissioners approve Language Access Plan

TARBORO — Do you speak English?

Immigrants new to America are faced with many obstacles with the most obvious being learning a new language.

In attempts to help non-native peoples who have yet to learn English access services throughout the county, the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners voted to approve a Language Access Plan.

Commissioner Jon Felton voted against the measure.

The plan and the accompanying policy go into effect for two years beginning on September 30 and is the county's compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 along with other applicable state and federal laws.

The Language Access Plan is being put in place in order to avoid discrimination because of national origin for all county administered programs and activities and has to take adequate measures to ensure that their policies and procedures do not deny or in effect deny people with limited English proficiency access to benefits and services they qualify for.

According to the 2000 Census, 2.1 percent of Edgecombe's population was foreign born while 4.6 percent of the population in the county spoke a language other than English in their homes.

The County's Title Vi Compliance officer is Eric Evans, community development administrator.

Evans said that the plan was not established out of necessity in the county manager's office but is a federal requirement.

"This shows that the county is interested in serving all of its citizens and reducing the obstacles in the way of people in need of services that we provide," he added.

An immediate effect of this plan is that notices posted by the county will appear in English and Spanish and that if the entire post is not in both languages, contact information regarding the content will be provided.

The plan outlines that the county will take steps to inform all applicable people and agencies of this policy as well as post and maintain signs in the languages most regularly encountered.

The county has identified the Planning Department, Public Utilities Department and the Edgecombe County Administration Building as places where multi-language signs will be posted.

Via this policy, the county also agreed to use posters and pamphlets to distribute information about the rights detailed in this policy.

Two bilingual staff at the Edgecombe County Department of Social Services who are fluent in Spanish are on hand for interpreting and the services of Fluent Language Solutions, a translating and interpreting firm based out of Charlotte, will be used when necessary.

The county is responsible for training of bilingual staff and interpreters used by the county which includes cultural competency, ethics of interpreting, confidentiality and methods of interpreting.

In addition, Edgecombe County will complete an annual compliance report and self-monitor on a quarterly basis.

Funding for the program will be allotted as needed, Evans said.

"This will be very helpful," said Maria Ortega, Hispanic-Latino Coordinator at Edgecombe Community College. "This is going to help out a lot.

Ortega works with limited English proficiency students as an English as a Second Language Teacher at ECC and said that often children become their parents' interpreters.

"A lot parents use their children (for communication) but what do they do when the children are in school," she said. "Or they are in a situation that they don't want their children to know about. It is better for the parent to find the information for themselves."

While she agrees that people who move to America should learn the language, Ortega added that there are other factors to consider and take into account.

"I agree with that (immigrants should learn English) but some of the parents are learning," she said. "No matter what, they are already here."

Among those with difficulty learning English are migrant workers, those without transportation to take advantage of available resources and the illiterate.

"If they can't read and speak their own language, how can you expect them to learn a second language," Ortega questioned. "A lot of them, they are willing. They are very consistent but they have other disadvantages."

Ortega said that she currently teaches 25 English as a Second Language students at the Tarboro campus of ECC and that there are 12 ESL students at the Rocky Mount campus.

"It's good for them to learn the language so we can try to provide them with the resources available," she said.

Ortega said that in some instances here in Edgecombe but moreso in Nash County, translators and interpreters are having to work with more than just Spanish speaking people with languages expanding to include Korean, Japanese, Arabic and Chinese.

When trying to figure out what language needs to be interpreted, students are asked to write a note in their native language and it is forwarded to someone who can translate it, Ortega said.

Ortega said that a device much like a calculator will be used soon to aid in communication between teachers and students who speak different languages.

The language difference, Ortega explained, creates more hurdles for those who don't speak English.

"It's difficult. You feel isolated, you feel afraid because you are just listening hoping to catch a few words," she said. "You just know a few words so it's hard to communicate.

"Most of the people here (who don't speak English) in the area are from Mexico who didn't go to school and are more hesitant (to try to get help)," continued Ortega. "It takes time to assimilate the culture and everything. It takes time."

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