The accuracy of machine interpretation and translation (e.g. Google Translate) continues to improve. These apps are downloadable to mobile devices and can be helpful in communicating with people in their own language. However, in a federally-assisted setting, there are some strict limitation on their use.

Federal LEP guidance requires that all communication relating to accessing programs and services (including housing) must be competent. However, informal conversations unrelated to the “meaningful access” to federally-assisted programs and services are not governed in this way. These apps can help you establish rapport with a LEP tenant just as you would with an English-speaking tenant. The benefit of this should not be overlooked.

However, when the conversation turns to accessing federally-assisted programs and services then a provider must rely on a human interpreter for help.

In a civil rights case involving four Massachusetts housing authorities, HUD stated:

Internet translation services may be used for:

  • i. Communication on a preliminary or conventional basis (e.g. “good morning” “what language is that” “do you need an interpreter” etc.);
  • ii. Communication of mundane information (e.g. “this is your parking space number” “this document has five pages” “we provide housing” etc.);
  • iii. Simple requests for basic information (e.g. “what is your name” “what is your phone number” “what time can we call you”).