Notarizing For Non-English Speaking Signers

As a notary, you may be asked to notarize a document for a person who cannot read it due to a language barrier. For example, an individual may want you to notarize a document written in English, but the signer doesn’t understand English. There are two potential issues here: a communication barrier between you and the signer and ensuring that the signer understands the consequences of executing the document.

A notary and signer must be able to communicate. If there is a language barrier, how will you determine that the signer is signing the document willingly and for the purposes stated therein? How will you verbally administer an oath or an acknowledgment? Remember that the verbal ceremony is a serious and vital part of a notarial act. If you aren’t able to communicate due to a language barrier, you should refer your client to a notary who speaks their language, unless your state’s notary laws allow you to use an interpreter.

A notary should also be very careful to ensure that a signer understands the nature and effect of the document before proceeding with a notarization. If the signer cannot understand the consequences of what they are signing due to the document being written in a language they do not understand, the notarization cannot proceed. The document needs to be translated into a language the signer can understand. Some states laws allow use of an interpreter to translate the nature and effect of the document. 

Most states require the notarial certificate to be completed in English, no matter the language of the document. The notary public has a duty to make sure that the information contained in the notarial certificate complies with their state’s notary laws. If you are unable to read the certificate wording, you may be unable to accurately fill out the certificate or determine if the notarial act is legally permissible.

Exercise utmost caution when dealing with foreign documents. Always consult your state’s laws, and make sure before proceeding that you are satisfied that the person appearing before you understand the document and is signing it willingly.


Legal Disclaimer: The American Association of Notaries is committed to providing accurate and up-to-date information. However, it is important to note that the information provided on this page is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. We do not claim to be attorneys and do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information provided. It is your responsibility to know the appropriate notary laws governing your state. You should always seek the advice of a licensed attorney for any legal matters. In no event shall the American Association of Notaries, its employees, or contractors be liable to you for any claims, penalties, losses, damages, or expenses, howsoever arising, including, and without limitation, direct or indirect loss, or consequential loss, out of or in connection with the use of the information contained on any of the American Association of Notaries website pages. Notaries are advised to seek the advice of their state’s notary authorities or attorneys if they have legal questions. 

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