Who is a Limited English Proficient (LEP) individual?
Individuals who do not speak English as their primary language and who have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English can be limited English proficient, or "LEP." These individuals may be entitled language assistance with respect to a particular type or service, benefit, or encounter.

What are the relevant laws concerning language access for LEP individuals?
Federal laws particularly applicable to language access include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Title VI regulations, prohibiting discrimination based on national origin, and Executive Order 13166 issued in 2000. Many individual federal programs, states, and localities also have provisions requiring language services for LEP individuals.

What is Executive Order 13166?
An Executive Order is an order given by the President to federal agencies. The LEP Executive Order (Executive Order 13166) says that people who are LEP should have meaningful access to federally conducted and federally funded programs and activities.

On August 11, 2000, the President signed Executive Order 13166, "Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency." The Executive Order requires Federal agencies to examine the services they provide, identify any need for services to those with limited English proficiency (LEP), and develop and implement a system to provide those services so LEP persons can have meaningful access to them. It is expected that agency plans will provide for such meaningful access consistent with, and without unduly burdening, the fundamental mission of the agency. The Executive Order also requires that the Federal agencies work to ensure that recipients of Federal financial assistance provide meaningful access to their LEP applicants and beneficiaries.

To assist Federal agencies in carrying out these responsibilities, the U.S. Department of Justice has issued a Policy Guidance Document, "Enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - National Origin Discrimination Against Persons With Limited English Proficiency" (LEP Guidance). This LEP Guidance sets forth the compliance standards that recipients of Federal financial assistance must follow to ensure that their programs and activities normally provided in English are accessible to LEP persons and thus do not discriminate on the basis of national origin in violation of Title VI's prohibition against national origin discrimination.

What is a recipient of federal financial assistance?
Federal financial assistance includes grants, training, use of equipment, donations of surplus property, and other assistance. Subrecipients are also covered, when federal funds are passed from one recipient to a subrecipient. Recipients of federal funds range from state and local agencies, to nonprofits and other organizations. A list of the types of recipients and the agencies funding them can be found at Executive Order 12250 Coordination of Grant-Related Civil Rights Statutes.

Title VI covers a recipient's entire program or activity. This means all parts of a recipient's operations are covered. This is true even if only one part of the recipient receives the federal assistance.

Example: DOJ provides assistance to a state department of corrections to improve a particular prison facility. All of the operations of the entire state department of corrections--not just the particular prison--are covered.
More information on Title VI, generally, can be found at Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.

What is a federally conducted activity?
All federal agencies subject to Executive Order 13166 must design and implement a federally conducted plan to ensure access for LEP individuals to all of its federally conducted programs and activities (basically, everything that it does). For instance, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has a plan for ensuring meaningful access to its programs and activities for LEP persons. Other agencies and parts of agencies must do the same.

Who will enforce the LEP rules?
Most federal agencies have an office that is responsible for enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. To the extent that a recipient's actions are inconsistent with their obligations under Title VI, then such agencies will take the necessary corrective steps.

What is the difference between a bilingual staff person and an interpreter or translator?
People who are completely bilingual are fluent in two languages. They are able to conduct the business of the workplace in either of those languages. Bilingual staff can assist in meeting the Title VI and Executive Order 13166 requirement for federally conducted and federally assisted programs and activities to ensure meaningful access to LEP persons.

One of the primary ways that bilingual staff can be used as part of a broader effort to ensure meaningful access is to have them conduct business with the agencies’ LEP clients directly in the clients’ primary language. For instance, 911 call centers and a variety of hotlines frequently employ bilingual operators who can communicate directly with LEP callers in a particular language.

Social service workers, police, corrections, and probation officers, and others frequently are also called upon to communicate directly with the public in languages other than English. This is sometimes called “monolingual communication in a language other than English.” It does not involve interpretation or the translation between languages. However, it does require fluency in the non-English language, including fluency in agency terminology. Such fluency should be assessed prior to relying on the bilingual employee for the provision of services.

Many individuals have some proficiency in more than one language, but are not completely bilingual. They may be able to greet a limited English proficient individual in his or her language, but not conduct agency business, for instance, in that language. The distinction is critical in order to ensure meaningful communication and appropriate allocation of resources. As valuable as bilingualism and ability to conduct monolingual communication in a language other than English can be, interpretation and translation require additional specific skills in addition to being fully fluent in two or more languages.

Interpretation involves the immediate communication of meaning from one language (the source language) into another (the target language). An interpreter conveys meaning orally, while a translator conveys meaning from written text to written text. As a result, interpretation requires skills different from those needed for translation.

Interpreting is a complex task that combines several abilities beyond language competence in order to enable delivery of an effective professional interpretation in a given setting. Consequently, extreme care must be exercised in hiring interpreters and interpreting duties should be assigned to individuals within their performance level. Command of at least two languages is prerequisite to any interpreting task. The interpreter must be able to (1) comprehend two languages as spoken and written (if the language has a script), (2) speak both of these languages, and (3) choose an expression in the target language that fully conveys and best matches the meaning of the source language.

From the standpoint of the user, a successful interpretation is one that faithfully and accurately conveys the meaning of the source language orally, reflecting the style, register, and cultural context of the source message, without omissions, additions or embellishments on the part of the interpreter.

Professional interpreters and translators are subject to specific codes of conduct and should be well-trained in the skills, ethics, and subject-matter language. Those utilizing the services of interpreters and translators should request information about certification, assessments taken, qualifications, experience, and training. Quality of interpretation should be a focus of concern for all recipients.
Many court systems have adopted assessments, certification or other qualification procedures to ensure quality, so when hiring an interpreter, whether for courtroom or other assignments, such competency measures should be taken into consideration. Interpreters can be physically present, or, if appropriate, may appear via videoconferencing or telephonically. When videoconferencing or telephonic interpretation are used, options include connecting directly to a specific professional interpreter with known qualifications, or opting to use a company providing telephonic interpretation services, preferably one with quality control safeguards in place.

In many circumstances, using a professional interpreter or translator will be both necessary and preferred. However, if bilingual staff are asked to interpret or translate, they should be qualified to do so. Assessment of ability, training on interpreter ethics and standards, and clear policies that delineate appropriate use of bilingual staff, staff or contract interpreters and translators, will help ensure quality and effective use of resources.