There is a large Hispanic population in our area. We often see Hispanic women coming for abortions. We only have a Hispanic translator some days of the week. Without fail, someone shows up to abort who speaks a different language – and, sometimes, there is no translator available. We have dealt with this issue many times, and we have strategies to overcome the language barriers.
Consider learning key phrases in language groups you see
Since we know we will see Hispanic women probably every day, we have put together a cheat sheet of common Spanish phrases to use at the abortion center. I have the most important phrases memorized and I have even called out to the women over the microphone in Spanish using those phrases. We have copied some of those at the end of this article.
It is well worth compiling such a cheat sheet if you have a large population of non-English-speaking people from a specific country or language.
Use the excellent phone language apps
I once led a woman to choose life AND to the Lord using a language app on my phone in Swahili! Some of the language apps are not great and I personally do not love Google Translate. I have also been told that sometimes it is not very accurate. I do, however, really like an app called Instant Translator.
The free app is not great because it allows limited interactions. The paid app is not very expensive and I love it and use it all the time. It has so many languages to choose from and the interactions can be as long as you need. You can either have it speak the translation out loud or just have it written. I have used it both ways. It is very easy for the other person to use and it is almost as quick as having an actual translator with me. I strongly recommend it. It is a good idea to practice with it before you’re in an actual situation of having to use it.
Another advantage is you can save the whole conversation. I have found it useful to review the conversation in training others (and myself!) to think about how they could have improved or to be encouraged by the things they did well.
Have pamphlets available in the dominant non-English language in your area
It is obviously not possible to have a pamphlet in every language; however, if there is a group of people that you tend to see over and over again that do not speak English, it is wise to have a pamphlet written in their language. Love Life does have a Spanish pamphlet to hand out to the mothers. I have seen moms choose life based on reading that pamphlet alone, so never underestimate the power of the pamphlets.
Start learning the dominant second language in your area
Because there are so many Hispanic women in our area, I decided it was time for me to tackle learning Spanish. The ministry is that important to me. Additionally, even though my Spanish is still terrible, the women seem truly touched that I try to speak with them in their native language.
I love the free language learning app, Duolingo. Through its use over the last year, I’m slowly growing in my ability to communicate with the women. When we do have a translator, I can often understand bits and pieces of what the translator is saying and what the woman is answering. Since so much of good counseling is about building trust and relationship, this is truly a wonderful avenue to do that. I am not an easy student of language. If I am learning, I guarantee anyone can.
Collect names/numbers of people who speak different languages and are willing to translate by phone
We have several people who are willing to be a translator by phone. This is not ideal but we have made it work many times. We put the translator on speakerphone. The counselor tells her what to say and then asks her how the woman responds. While speaking to the translator, I make a point to put my eyes on the woman and to act like she understands every word I’m saying. Again building that relationship is so important.
I recommend being intentional about building that list. Whenever you meet someone who loves the Lord and speaks a different language, ask them if they would be on your translator list and then have a master list of all those people and the languages they speak.
Announce at prayer walks the need for specific language translators
People might be terrified about the thought of being a sidewalk counselor but if assured that all they would have to do is repeat what you say, they might be willing to come out to the sidewalk. Sometimes if they have success, they decide they want to volunteer with us more regularly.
One of the best stories of an example of that was when a woman from Vietnam came to abort. The abortion center had hired a translator who arrived after the woman arrived who stopped to talk with us. By a miracle of God, she was a believer! That translator did go into the abortion center after talking with us where she met the Vietnamese mom. Since she knew the abortion workers could not tell what she was saying to the mom, she told that mom all about us and encouraged her to leave and let us help her. That mom still sends us pictures every month of her son who is now five or six years old. That translator has offered to come out anytime we need her because it was such a wonderful experience for her and built her faith in God using her for a mighty purpose.
Be aware that immigration status can affect decision to abort
Quite often, the ones that speak no English are undocumented. I have often been able to discern that this is the major reason they are aborting. They are afraid they will have no healthcare or help. They sometimes don’t trust us because they think we will turn them in to the authorities. So I have learned how to navigate that situation to allay those fears as soon as possible. I will often say “if you fall through the insurance cracks, do not worry. We have people who will see you for free and we provide all of our other services completely free.”
Through Monroe Pregnancy Center, the wonderful pro-life Dr. Matt Harrison provides free health clinics once a month for those women. It is a powerful tool! If you can find a pregnancy center and doctor in your area willing to do this, it can help a lot with undocumented women.
I remember one day a mom who didn’t speak any English initially started the discussion with me through Instant Translator app. She was in tears and clearly did not want to abort but saw no way out. Amazingly, her pastor who was bilingual, showed up at the abortion center shortly after I began talking with her. I think a mutual friend had called him and told him what was happening. He translated for me and he was urging her as well to choose life. He could not figure out why she kept saying she had to have the abortion.
Truly it was the Holy Spirit that helped me discern she was probably here without papers and very afraid of being deported. I told him to tell her we did not care at all about her legal status in the United States and she could trust that we would help her no matter what. I told him to tell her that everything we offered would be free. That was the point at which she chose life and trusted me. So it is very important to always be aware of that dynamic.
Try to know the culture
If there is a particular ethnic group that you see often, it is a good idea to learn something about their culture in trying to help them. For example, we know that most Hispanic people come from a Catholic background and a strong belief in God even if we may not agree with all their theology. They seem to be the group most easily persuaded to choose life. They are the group that most commonly tear up when I ask if they know God and what He would have them do.
One of the hardest groups I have found to convince not to kill their baby are people from India. One of our former counselors is Indian, and she gave us clues about the culture that helped us know how to call out and reach the Indian couples. She said they were very family oriented and so referring to the unborn baby as son or daughter or a member of their family was a good idea. The Hindus believe in reincarnation; therefore, killing the baby was not as serious an offense as we would consider it because they felt the baby would come back in a higher form. They also believe that it is not a baby until the baby takes her first breath. We would try to dismantle those misconceptions through science and talking about the baby’s development. Despite the difference in spiritual outlook, we never shied away from talking about God.
They do believe in karma and so it is useful talking about how a destructive violent act against a member of their own family could lead to very devastating karma or consequences. I would not personally use the word karma, but the concept would not be foreign to them that if you do bad things, bad things follow. Deuteronomy 30:19 might be a good Scripture that illustrates this point from a Christian perspective.
Convey compassion and caring through the tone of your voice and the look on your face
Humans recognize kindness and helpfulness in each other even without words. Pantomimes can go a long way, such as patting your belly to indicate the baby and then cradling an imaginary baby in your arms. Using simple words with a kind tone can sometimes overcome the language barrier (at least in the beginning).
I have met very few people who don’t speak a few words of English. If they don’t understand anything, I hold up my finger as if to say wait a moment and then point to my phone and my mouth to indicate that I will be able to translate with my phone. Surprisingly, they do seem to understand.
Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit
I am continually amazed at how God provides. I can’t tell you the number of times when I have needed a translator, and there was one either praying on the sidewalk or even just a passerby. I have to always keep in my heart that this is God’s work, and it is no surprise to Him that someone has shown up who does not speak English. This can also be in our favor, since they don’t understand what the pro-abortion people are saying either!
The Holy Spirit speaks all languages. He can work in their hearts even when we don’t have the words that we wish we could say. However, to aid you in speaking with Hispanic moms, we attached a list below with some key phrases. May God guide our words!