Wednesday, February 24, 2010
County speaks 53 languages
By Chad Selweski, Macomb Daily Staff Writer
In recognition of the changing demographics in Macomb County, Clerk Carmella Sabaugh has turned to a new technology that allows her staff to communicate with residents seeking services who don't speak English.
Relying upon Google Premier software, the clerk's office can write e-mails in English and convert them into any one of 53 languages.
"When I moved here, pasta, paczki, and sauerkraut comprised the universal language, but it's clear in today's Macomb County that technology can help us provide services and collect revenue in other languages," said Sabaugh, whose family emigrated from Italy.
"This technology helps citizens follow the rules and pay fees even if English is their second language."
For example, the clerk's staff recently used new technology to explain the fee for birth records to a parent who didn't speak English.
Using Google Premier, approved by the Board of Commissioners in December, the information was provided using the customer's and assistant clerk's native languages, even though the customer called in speaking Spanish and the staff e-mailed back in English. Each saw the communications in their own language.
The woman called on Feb. 3 to request the birth record for her son, a U.S. citizen, who was born in Macomb County. The request was forwarded to Supervisor of Records Aaron Johnson.
Johnson typed the words "birth certificate" on his computer and it was translated to "certificado de nacimiento."
Although he speaks no Spanish, Johnson e-mailed the customer the information she required in her native language.
Sabaugh said she believes that if government doesn't adapt to the county's changing demographics, communities may miss out on potential economic development as people with limited English language skills who are seeking to develop businesses and provide services will go elsewhere.
U.S. Census data indicates that 12.4 percent of Macomb County residents speak a language other than English as their first language. This equates to 103,002 people, many of whom may benefit from translation services to transact business within the county.
Google Premier costs the clerk just $46.50 per user per year and requires no special server or hardware to run.
In addition to e-mail and translation services, it provides many software tools that aid with handling and storing documents, as well as ensuring first-rate data security. The language translations are nearly instantaneous.
So far, the clerk's office, including Sabaugh's Register of Deeds staff, is the only Macomb County department that offers Google Premier service.