Over the past couple of decades, the United States has welcomed many Afghan immigrants and refugees into the country. However, once these individuals arrive, it isn’t uncommon for them to run into issues with communication. Not everyone understands how to most effectively communicate with an Afghan immigrant who has limited English proficiency, and this can result in frustrating situations for everyone involved, especially if interpretation services aren’t available at the time.
Afghan immigrants in the United States need help communicating with those around them as they adjust to their lives in a new country. Just because an immigrant struggles with English doesn’t mean that communication is impossible or should not be attempted. To open the lines of communication, businesses and government agencies must provide language services to immigrants in need.
Where Are Most Afghan Refugees Settling?
Over 182,000 Afghans have resettled in the US over the past 20 years. Not every Afghan immigrant will speak the same native language. The language an Afghan citizen speaks doesn’t necessarily indicate their ethnic background or identity.
Further, the country has only two official languages, but it also has five regional languages, as well as a significant number of minority languages. Many of Afghanistan’s residents are either bilingual or multilingual.
The two official languages of Afghanistan are Dari (sometimes referred to as Farsi or Afghan Persian) and Pashto. Dari is closely related to the Persian language and is considered a modern-day dialect. Dari is also the trade language of Afghanistan, and more residents speak Dari than those who speak Pashto. As such, Dari is the language predominantly used by the nation’s government and administration, as well as popular media outlets.
Pashto is an Indo-Iranian language, sharing a considerable amount of its modern vocabulary with Vedic Sanskrit and Persian. Nearly 50 percent of Afghan residents can speak Pashto, compared to the 78 percent that use Dari. Over half of them speak the language at a native level, while the rest speak it as a second language. Primarily, you will hear Pashto spoken in urban locations found in the eastern, south, and southwest parts of the country.
What Is Afghanistan’s First Language?
Nearly half of the Afghan population speaks Dari as their first language, and over one-third of residents speak Dari as their second language. Most of the remaining Afghans speak Pashto as their first language, although many individuals speak regional languages on a native level instead.
Farsi and Dari are two dialects of the same language, and while they might look the same in written format, they sound very different when spoken. Make sure you know if your audience speaks Farsi or Dari. Pashto is a different language than Dari and Farsi.
The English Proficiency of Afghan Immigrants
Compared to the United States’ general foreign-born populations, immigrants from Afghanistan are less likely to speak English at a proficient level. Around half of Afghans in the United States over the age of five report limited English proficiency, and only six percent of Afghan immigrants speak English at home. This is lower than for the general foreign-born population, where around 16 percent speak English at home.
Naturally, the likelihood that an Afghan immigrant is proficient in English depends on multiple variables. Both periods of arrival and gender seem to play a role in how likely the individual is to speak English proficiently. Afghan women are slightly more likely to be classified as “limited English proficient” (LEP) when compared to their male counterparts. Immigrants who arrived in the United States after the year 2010 are also more likely to be LEP than those who arrived during an earlier period.
Communication Concerns for Afghan Immigrants
Communication is possibly one of the biggest barriers Afghan refugees and SIV holders face. It is important that government agencies and businesses find effective ways to communicate with these immigrants despite the language barrier.
Learning to assimilate to the English language can be a struggle for many Afghan immigrants, partly due to the differences between English and Afghan languages. Although native speakers are often unaware of it, the English language features numerous irregularities that don’t exist in most other languages, and this complicates the learning process for Afghan immigrants.
How to Communicate with Afghan Immigrants
One of the most promising ways to communicate with Afghan immigrants is through technology. However, many interpretation and translation tools, such as Google Translate, are limited or sometimes provide errors. Aside from standard interpretation or translation services, there are emergency translation services designed specifically to aid refugees and immigrants.
Support services also exist for educators of English learner (EL) students as they enter English-speaking classrooms for the first time. Colorín Colorado is a site sponsored by the Teachers Federation of America and PBS television that offers resources targeted at the families and educators of EL students. It now provides a page filled with information about Afghan refugee students and how to help them become acclimated to English-speaking classrooms.
The Importance of Interpreters & Translators for Afghan Immigrants
The need to effectively communicate begins prior to arriving in the US, as there are many questions and directions given. Once arriving in the US, arrivals go to U.S. military bases in Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin and New Jersey for processing, according to people familiar with the process. Afghans sent to the military bases receive a health screening and help in applying for work authorization, along with other services. The processing can take anywhere from a day to a week or more. Many of the evacuees were translators/interpreters working with the US military and may stay on at the bases to help communicate through this process. After processing at the military bases, they will leave temporary housing sites at U.S. military installations to start new lives in America with the help of nonprofit refugee resettlement agencies, according to Department of Homeland Security data.
About 37,000 of the total number of evacuees will need resettlement assistance. California is expected to receive 5,225 Afghan evacuees, the most of any state. Texas is set to receive 4,481 Afghans, followed by Oklahoma, which is expected to host 1,800 evacuees. Washington state and Arizona are each slated to receive more than 1,600 evacuees.
The other states set to receive more than 1,000 Afghan evacuees during the first resettlement phase are Maryland, Michigan, Virginia, Missouri, New York, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida, according to the government statistics that were first reported by The Associated Press. Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana and North Dakota are all set to resettle fewer than 100 Afghans. Alabama and Mississippi are expected to receive just 10 evacuees. We use this data to best identify time zone availability for possible requests, ensuring swift connections and access to interpreters during key or spike hours.
New arrivals often need language assistance to complete immigration paperwork, as well as prior to vaccination screening against measles and COVID-19 and for accurate health screening and establishing a baseline of prior medical history.
As the next step in resettlement presents itself, interpreters are essential to the process of placement assistance. The State Department has set up the Afghan Placement and Assistance (APA) program specifically to help Afghans who don’t qualify for traditional refugee benefits or a direct pathway to U.S. permanent status. The program is designed to help the nine national resettlement agencies and their local affiliates assist Afghans with housing, food, clothing and other services that facilitate their integration into U.S. communities. Providing support to the nine National resettlement agencies and local agencies allows for the smooth transition into communities.
Now Is the Time to Improve Interpretation Options for Afghan Immigrants
If there was ever a time to focus our attention on improving and expanding translation services for Afghan immigrants, it’s now. Since the withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan earlier in 2021, the Taliban (as well as other allied militant groups) have begun to seize control over the country. Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, fell on August 15, as it was taken over by the Taliban.
Immediately, it was clear that widespread evacuations would need to take place to protect vulnerable people. Interpreters and assistants have begun to flee to the US, as they are now at high risk in their native country. Women and minority groups are also unsafe in their native Afghanistan, motivating many of these individuals to gain refugee status and flee to the US, as well.
The evacuations occurred between August 14 and 25, with the United States taking in approximately 82,300 refugees. A total of 122,000 were airlifted from Hamid Karzai International Airport, making this operation one of the largest airlifts ever performed. Those who were evacuated included mainly Special Immigrant Visa applicants, current United States citizens, and other vulnerable groups.
To accommodate this surge of Afghan refugees and SIV holders, effective means of communication and interpretation are more essential than ever. If we cannot communicate with these individuals, the process of settling into the country as refugees becomes even more complicated and confusing, both for them and their neighbors.
Telelanguage Offers Dari Interpretation Services
Dari is one of the two official languages of Afghanistan, with around half of the nation’s population being native speakers. Telelanguage offers Dari interpretation and translation services as well as Farsi. To help reduce misinterpretation and establish trust, we will talk to you about your needs and try to provide Farsi speakers from Iran with an Iranian interpreter and Dari speakers from Afghanistan with an Afghan interpreter.
As a reminder, community resettlement does not often allow for anonymity if using local interpreters. A non-English speaker may be less forthcoming with personal information for fear of it being made known throughout the community. Using over the phone interpreters allows for privacy and comfort to the non-English speaker.
If you would like to learn more about what we offer, you can check out our helpful FAQs page, or you can read more about the services we offer. As one of the nation’s leading language service providers, we have a team of more than 6,000 interpreters who speak over 350 languages, so we can manage any translation requests for organizations of any size or industry.
Director of Contracting
Hayley has been with Telelanguage since 2016. She implements language services from contract negotiations through account set-up. Hayley oversees proposal development, business development, and contract management. In addition, Hayley develops content and graphics for Telelanguage’s various web and marketing platforms.