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Breaking Barriers: The growing need for language interpreters

ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) – It’s something many of us take for granted: talking with one another.

But for people who move to a new place where they don’t speak the predominant language, life is incredibly difficult.

As the Rochester area becomes more and more diverse the need for qualified interpreters also grows.

Mariam Jaras moved to the United States six years ago from Somalia to flee the Civil War.

She speaks Somali and Arabic, but no English, so she turns to interpreters for help.

“It’s very very difficult when you don’t know the language and you cannot communicate,” she said. “And when someone you know speaks the language you speak, that makes you feel happy.”

That interpreters is often provided through the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association in Rochester.

The IMAA offers interpreters for 40 languages who can help in a variety of situations.

“Whether it is a medical provider or a social worker or even courtrooms, and family mediators, they help non-English speakers get the services that they qualify and also navigate the sources that’s out there,” said Mohamed Sheik Nur, the Language Services Program Manager at IMAA.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says jobs for interpreters and translators will increase much faster than average, projecting an 18 percent increase from 2015-2026.

But sometimes, it’s hard for IMAA to find qualified candidates.

“The highest numbers of requests that we get are Spanish, Arabic and Somali,” said Nur. “Kami is also a high number and there are some exotic dialects that are very difficult to find interpreters for.”

IMAA says it could be that qualifed candidates don’t realize interpreting is a profession.

The only prerequisite is fluency in English and the other language.

“The rest we train them,” said Nur. “We don’t just send them out in the field without proper training.”

Sara Sarith Chhum, one of IMAA’s longest serving interpreters, also sees the need.

“We encourage them to come and even they know just the English, but we tell them that you go to IMAA, IMAA gives you more skills,” Chhum said.

People like Mariam are just as much a part of our community as anyone else. They just might need an extra nudge to get over the language barrier.

“It’s like when you don’t speak English it’s like no eyes, no vision,” she said. “When you have someone who speaks another language and speaks the same language as you speak you feel happy.”

IMAA doesn’t have a specific number of interpreters it’s looking to hire. Instead, it’s always accepting applications for qualified people.

Erin O'Brien

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