by Liz Pride, Office of Domestic Violence Strategies

Everyone in Philadelphia is entitled to City services in the language they are most comfortable speaking. This means that all City departments must plan for language access. These plans can include live interpretation, on the phone, zoom or in-person, and translation of documents.

Language access is especially important for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or trafficking who speak languages other than English. Chi-Ser Tran, Staff Attorney for the Language Access Project and SSI Unit at Community Legal Services says, “Language access is an access to justice issue. It can also mean the difference between life and death in certain situations, including for survivors of abuse.”

Talking about frightening or traumatic experiences is difficult in any language. Survivors with limited English may find healthcare, courts, housing, child welfare, and other systems confusing. Interpretation is critical for survivors to successfully communicate with these systems. Tran emphasizes, “It is important that organizations and agencies that serve survivors of abuse understand how to obtain language services and utilize them effectively to provide meaningful access to anyone who is limited English proficient.”

Working with an interpreter to communicate with people may be new for you. Keep reading for tips on how to make the process effective and supportive for survivors of abuse.

Protect privacy 

Considering privacy is especially important for survivors. Do not use children or family members as interpreters, as this can be unsafe for survivors. Make sure you ask others to leave the room or find a private area to speak. 

If on the phone with the survivor, ask them if it is safe to talk before you ask for more information.  

Get familiar  

City of Philadelphia employees should review their department’s Language Access Plan. Your department also likely has a Language Access Coordinator. Schedule a meeting with them to get familiar with what’s available. It’s better to know what to do before you need to call an interpreter. Survivors may be nervous about accessing City services. Your confidence and preparation mean a lot.

Philadelphians who work for private employers can review their own employer’s policies for language access. You can also consult  for tools and resources on developing a language access plan.

Don’t delay 

Ask the individual up front if they need an interpreter. If you’re in-person, language-identification posters can help identify what language they need. Once you know, make the effort to quickly connect with the interpreter.

Do not try to work through basic information without the interpreter. This could mean the survivor misses important information.

Introduce yourself, the interpreter, and allow the survivor to introduce themselves. Be sure to explain what your role is or what your conversation will be about.

Be clear and direct 

Speak in the first person. You should speak to the survivor as if the interpreter is not there. For example, say: “How are you?” instead of, “Could you ask her how she is?”  

Always explain acronyms or technical terms. Speak in shorter segments so the interpreter can keep up with the information. The interpreter also might ask you for clarification. Clarity is important. The survivor may be using this information to make decisions about their safety. They need to completely understand what is going on. 

Take it slow 

These conversations will take longer than a conversation without interpretation. Check in to make sure the speed of the conversation works for the interpreter. Check in that the survivor understands. Be ready to take some more time. 

When wrapping up, summarize what you spoke about or any next steps. This gives the survivor a chance to ask clarifying questions with the interpreter. 

Language access is a right 

Supporting survivors in the language they are most comfortable speaking is important. These tips will help, but comfort takes time and practice. Use the resources linked below to learn more about language access. For survivors and their supporters, share the translated resources linked below. 


If you think that your relationship is abusive, or if you think someone you know is being abused, call the 24-hour Philadelphia domestic violence hotline at (866) 723-3014. Language interpretation is available. 

Browse guides and resources compiled by the Office of Domestic Violence Strategies