Yes You Can: Getting Over Language Barriers

“Do you speaka my language?” --Men at Work’s song “Down Under.”

If nobody does speak your language, welcome to the world of not being understood.  It is a most uncomfortable and frustrating place to be. 

Perhaps if you are a tourist and you are trying to get a coffee from the local café, it may be part of an exotic adventure. However... if you are trying to get health care coverage for your children or yourself, it can be daunting.

June is Immigrant Heritage Month, and Michigan is a land of immigrants. 

Washtenaw County is growing rapidly with migrant groups from many different countries.   If you are curious to see what languages we have in Michigan check out this web site

American Community Survey data, 2008-2012, Language Spoken At Home, taken from:

American Community Survey data, 2008-2012, Language Spoken At Home, taken from:

Understanding legal rights

Fortunately there are federal and state laws in place to assure people can access the services they need in their own language.

The Department of Health and Human Services policy states that they will provide interpreter services when needed.

The department will provide appropriate interpreters to persons with limited English proficiency (LEP) to afford such persons an equal opportunity to participate in or benefit from MDHHS programs and services. The department and its contracted service providers will take reasonable steps to provide services and information in appropriate languages to ensure that LEP individuals are effectively informed, notified of their rights and responsibilities and can effectively participate in and benefit from MDHHS programs, services and activities.


If an applicant really doesn't understand English, but tries to "get by," the DHHS staff person may understand this to mean that the client's English is good enough to do the application. If a client really doesn't understand English, the client should state that clearly in the beginning. Most of the time, the office will need to call a telephone interpreter line.

Don't expect a DHHS staff person to automatically know the language that a client needs help with--or even that a client needs help! Clients need to specifically request interpretation. Clients can bring another adult with them to translate, but DHHS policy states that "Minor children or other non-adult relatives of the client may be used as interpreters in the most extraordinary circumstances and only if other kinds of interpreter resources are not available."  Read more here and here.

Interpretation Services and

The Marketplace application is available online in both English and Spanish. For other languages, applicants should call the Marketplace at 1-800-318-2596 and request an interpreter. Applicants can also make an appointment for a telephone interpreter. 

--S. Quiñones

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