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Language Barriers


I needed the signature of my Russian mother-in-law notarized on a form going to the Russian Embassy regarding her pension. The notary refused to notarize the document because it was written in a foreign language. Is she allowed to do that?

In some states, a notary public may not be specifically prohibited from notarizing documents written in a language that the notary public cannot read and understand. However, if state law permits such a notarization, the notarial certificate must be in a language that the notary public can read. Moreover, if the signer is unable to directly communicate with the notary public, the notary must decline the performance of the notarial act. Please contact your state’s commissioning authority for further information.

We have a document that is in Portuguese. Is it acceptable for an English-speaking notary to notarize this document if we verbally translate the document?

Some states prohibit their notaries public from notarizing documents written in a foreign language, especially, when the notarial certificate is in a language that the notary public cannot read. Most importantly, a notary public may not perform a notarial act if the notary cannot directly communicate with the signer because of a language barrier. Please contact your state’s commissioning authority for further information.

Can I notarize a document that is written in a foreign language if I am unable to read it?

Some states specifically prohibit their notaries public from notarizing documents written in a foreign language unless they are able to read such documents. If state notary law permits notaries to notarize documents written in a foreign language, it is usually with the condition that the notarial certificate is written in a language that the notary public can read. Read your state notary laws to ascertain what position you should take in this matter.

What should a notary do when the signer does not speak the language the notary speaks?

The notary and signer must be able to communicate with each other in the verbal notarial ceremony. In some states, a notary may not notarize a document for a signer who cannot directly acknowledge his or her signature or swear to the truthfulness of his or her statements. The notary laws in some states clearly dictate that notaries public may not use an interpreter to communicate with the signer in the performance of a notarial act. The better practice is to encourage the signer to have his or her document notarized by a notary public who speaks the same language.

Can I notarize a document that is written in the English language for a signer who cannot read or write English?

Decline the notarization of the document. Refer the signer to an attorney who can give her legal advice regarding the nature and effect of the document she is signing, and perhaps she can have her document notarized there as well.

A Hispanic signer wants me to notarize a document written in the Spanish language, but the signer cannot read the Spanish language. Should I decline the notarization?

Encourage the signer to seek legal advice from an attorney regarding the nature and effect of the document requiring his or her signature. For the protection of the signer’s legal rights, it is also recommended that the document requiring his or her signature be translated prior to the notarization of his or her signature as required by some states.

Can a notary use an interpreter to provide notary services?

A notary must not rely on a translator to insure that the signer understands the nature and effect of the signing and notarization of a document because the translator may not be translating the communication between the notary and signer accurately. If a notary public is not fluent in the language of the signer, the notary must decline the notarization of the document. There must be direct communication between the signer and the notary public in the notarial ceremony for the execution of proper notarial procedures. Encourage the signer to seek notary services from a notary public that is fluent in his or her language.