Even those who had lived for more than a decade in the US still has problems with language.
Most immigrants who arrived in the US as adults, and had rudimentary linguistic abilities, will have problems generally caused by language barrier. Such problems are often endured by people who – back home – has had bilingual abilities (usually mother-tongue and language other than English – or ethnic language), and were unable to attend ESL classes to advance their understanding in English. Indeed, most jobs held by immigrants tend to be blue-collar jobs; the kind of jobs that do not require one to do many paperwork – often the most useful tool in learning a language.
Should they get naturalized, they found out that living in the US require a lot of paperwork that needs higher-than-mediocre understanding of language. Taxes, for instance, or insurance, legal matters, and so on. Whilst natural-born Americans tend to quickly hand over the paperwork to a legal representation, most immigrants do not have the luxury of knowing – or rather, trusting – a lawyer with something that can cost them some pretty penny. The mindset tend to be somewhere along the line: I earned even the last penny of what I have, why should I give it to somebody else to read a piece of paper?
This writer, however, would suggest several things:
- Anyone who are unable to comprehend the content of the first paragraph of a legal document should consult a lawyer. Yes, lawyers tend to have to be paid in advance – called holding a retainer – before they can explain the meaning of a document to you. But once you have the service of one, they are obligated to explain it to you until you completely understand. Do not hesitate nor be ashamed to say: “I don’t understand this,” to your lawyer. You are paying him/her to make you understand.
- Next is to make notes of the conversation you have with your lawyer. The lawyer would not mind. When you are done with the note, show it to your lawyer, ask him/her if you have made the right deduction or not. S/he will tell you if you have not. Do not make assumption out of a legal documents based on several words you understand. Misunderstanding a document may cost you more than hiring a lawyer.
- How can one find a trustworthy lawyer? – you ask? Word of mouth is the most powerful tool of all. If you have a friend who is a resident American, ask your friend for recommendation. Most likely, your resident-friend will have one in retainer, regardless if they use the service or not. At the very least, they will know of one, somehow. Be it a kith or kin, or an acquaintance.
- Other method is if anyone of your origin has a relative – most likely their children – who is a lawyer. Some people questioned, however, objected this method because they fear that the lawyer-child of their kin may speak of their legal problems to their parents. This will not happen. All lawyers are mandated by their professional oath to keep whatever discussed between the two of you as confidential matters. If s/he talk about your problem to his/her relative, s/he can lose their license to practice law.
- Last but not least: Know your rights. In the US, you have the rights for information. If you think you have been treated wrongly in a legal matter, you have the rights to know the reasons of the treatment. You also have the rights of a representation. When all else fails, you have the rights to contact the representative of your country-of-origin – and find someone who speaks your mother-tongue to explain things to you.
Still, before you find yourself needing legal representation because you cannot understand a document, it would be highly advisable to attend English-as Second Language classes. Having higher understanding of a language never hurts.