Foreign Language, Foreign Document Issues

Should a Notary Permit Someone to Translate the Conversation Between the Notary and the Document Signer?
ASN Hot Tip, July 2008-#2

The Situation: A notary performed an acknowledgment notarial act for a client who spoke only a foreign language. The client’s daughter translated the conversation between the notary and the client.

The Notary’s Dilemma: Afterward, the notary was not sure if she should have performed a notarial act using a translator, even though she knew the client’s daughter and trusted her to translate accurately.

The Solution: The notary must be certain that the client is acknowledging that he or she signed the document, understands the contents of the document, and signed the document of his or her own free will without being coerced. To do this, the notary performs the verbal ceremony by asking the client a question, a vital part of the process of performing a notarial act:

“Do you acknowledge that this is your signature and that you understand this document and willingly signed it for its stated purpose?”

Our notary admitted she was not certain that her client understood the details of the verbal ceremony as translated by the client’s daughter, because she did not communicate with her client directly. By allowing another person to translate the verbal ceremony from English into another language, the notary delegated a vital part of the notarial act to someone else.

A few states expressly forbid the use of a translator for the conversation between the notary and client. Most states, however, simply don’t address the question of a notary using a translator to communicate with the client in state statutes or administrative codes.

In such cases, careful consideration of best notarial practices must guide the notary. Since one of the notary’s most important tasks is to determine the signer’s comprehension and willingness to proceed, the ability to communicate one-on-one with the signer is essential. Verbal communication, and most especially the verbal ceremony, must not be delegated to anyone else, no matter how trustworthy they are.

The proper action for our notary would have been to decline performing the notarial act, and to help locate a notary who shares a common language with the signer.
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The Affidavit of Translator
American Notary, Issue 2007-#4

Occasionally a client will ask a bilingual notary to “certify” the translation of an original document. Perhaps the client was asked to provide a certified English translation of the document to a school, government agency or private company. The person who brings in the document, the document custodian, wants the notary to ascertain that the translation is accurate and, in some manner, “certify” as much on the translation.

You, as a notary, have no authorization to certify a translation. You must explain to the document custodian that only the document’s translator can make a sworn statement saying that the translation is accurate and complete. Show the person a copy of an Affidavit of Translator so he or she may see what is required. The document custodian can then come back with the translator or tell you that he or she was the document’s translator. In either case, you may proceed with an Affidavit of Translator transaction as soon as the translator is present.

The Affidavit of Translator notarial certificate contains, after the venue, a sworn (or affirmed) statement made by the person who translated the document saying that he or she knows both the language of the original document and the language into which the document was translated and can translate from one language to the other. The translator also states that the translation is accurate and complete and that the person making the affidavit was the translator of the document that is named in the affidavit. There are lines for the translator’s signature and printed name. Beneath the signature line is jurat language to the effect that the translator swore or affirmed before the notary public that the information in the affidavit section of the certificate is the truth. Of course, the affiant (translator) must sign the affidavit/certificate in the presence of the notary. The notary signs and seals the jurat portion of the certificate and indicates the method by which he or she identified the translator.

Clearly, the notary cannot be both the translator and the notary on the Affidavit of Translator. To do so would cause the notary to notarize his or her own signature, something no state allows. If you are in fact the document translator, you must have another notary administer the oath/affirmation to you for the Affidavit of Translator.

Another Note: the original document is frequently a foreign-language birth certificate translated into English and used as identification to accompany an application to a government agency, school or private company. Some notaries are uneasy because they are aware that they cannot make certified/attested copies of vital records such as a birth certificate. You are not making a certified/attested copy in this case, so you may proceed with the Affidavit of Translator.
Questions, comments on this Hot Tip? email

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