After hearing that it would cost $1,300 to provide simultaneous translation service for a two-hour city meeting, Evanston aldermen this week asked the Equity and Empowerment Commission to come up with a recommendation on what to do about providing such services.
The City of Aurora earlier this year started providing simultaneous translation of City Council meetings into Spanish — with a bilinqual member of the city’s communications department doing the translation and headsets borrowed from a local school district giving Spanish-speaking resident access to the translation.
Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says while Evanston has a number of employees who speak Spanish and have pitched in on occasion to do translations, none of them has strong enough skills to tackle simultaneous translation.
Professional services now can provide simultaneous translation with a translator in a remote location listening to a video or audio feed of the meeting and speaking the translation into headphones. The translator’s words then are delivered to meeting attendees listening through an app on their smartphones.
But as Bobkiewicz discovered, those services don’t come cheap. And having a professional translator on site is even more expensive.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she’s seen simultaneous translation done with headphones at some District 65 PTA presentations and suggested city staff get in touch with the school officials.
She added that two professional translators she knows have told her they’re appalled at the quality of translations at some city meetings.
The surveys also say that 9.2 percent of Aurora residents live in “Limited English Speaking Households,” while in Evanston that number is 3.8 percent.
In New York City a city council member introduced a bill earlier this year to require translation services at public meetings in neighborhoods where more than 10 percent of the residents speak a foreign language.
Providing translation services has also become a hot issue in California communities with large immigrant populations.
Perris, California, a town about the size of Evanston, announced on its website last year the hiring of a person to provide translation of all its City Council meetings into Spanish. The U.S. Census surveys indicate 22.6 percent of Perris residents speak English less than “very well” and 10.1 percent live in “Limited English Speaking Households.”