How does someone contact emergency services in a country where they dont speak the language?


If somebody is in a foreign country, where they don’t speak the language and they call the emergency number, how do they communicate their emergency? Is there a special phone line for different languages?

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I don’t know about other countries but in the UK the emergency phone line (999) process has a mechanism to deal with non English speakers.

Basically the calls with non-English speakers get dealt with through an interpretation service that allows for a three-way call between the person with the emergency; the emergency services and the interpreter (who acts as the go between).

I’d imagine the process works much the same way in many other countries or at the very least multi-lingual staff are sought out for the role of call-handler.

Anecdotally in my younger days i had a role in a call-centre for an insurance company and we had a database of staff who could indicate their language proficiency and willingness to field calls, then if calls came in and needed an interpreter to help deal with the call we would look up the language in the DB and have a list of staff to contact to deal with the call (basically an in-business version of the slightly more fancy interpretation service i mentioned 999 uses)

Typically emergency services will try to have people on staff who can speak a variety of the likely languages to be encountered in the area. In the US for example it is likely that in addition to English there will be a 911 operator on duty who can speak some Spanish. If the operator that picks up doesn’t speak the language they can probably recognize it and transfer to their colleague. There wouldn’t be different lines and numbers for various languages because as you just demonstrated nobody is going to know what they are.

There are of course languages which aren’t going to be on hand. If you called emergency services in Germany and could only speak Sandawe, an obscure dialect from Tanzania, then they would probably have a hard time communicating with you. They almost certainly speak English in addition to German though!

Luckily there are other ways to extract some amount of information from a caller. A land line will have an attached address, and modern cell phones can automatically report their location to emergency services if the caller is unable to communicate for whatever reason (some medical emergencies may prevent the caller speaking even if they know the language). So you might call to babble in Sandawe and yet still find police/medical/fire services showing up at your location regardless.

Mayday is universally recognized as a call for help. It is actually the French contraction M’Aidez, which means “Help me!”