Vietnam Map

Vietnamese Becomes an Official Language of San Francisco

The Mekong

San Francisco has added Vietnamese to its list of official languages following a vote that changed the requirements for official language status. Government documents and translation services will now be available for Vietnamese speakers in San Francisco who have limited English proficiency.

On June 11th, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to amend its Language Access Ordinance to change the requirements for a language to be eligible for translation services. This ordinance originally stated that a language needs to have 10,000 speakers with limited English proficiency (LEP) to become an official language of San Francisco. Once a language reaches this status, it is required for all city departments that serve the public to provide documents and services in that language.

The Board of Supervisors voted to lower the official language requirement to only 6,000 LEP speakers. With almost 7,000 LEP speakers in San Francisco, this amendment puts Vietnamese just above this benchmark, making it an official language of the city.

Joining Chinese, Spanish, and Filipino, Vietnamese is the fourth non-English official language of San Francisco. Despite having the smallest speaker population of the four, Vietnamese has the largest ratio of LEP speakers to overall speakers with LEP speakers being over 60% of the total speaker population. Yet, according to the 2024 San Francisco Language Access Compliance Summary, only 4.91% of citywide materials have been translated into Vietnamese

Moving forward, board and commission meeting materials, government websites, bills, and other services will be translated into Vietnamese. By January 1, 2025, all departments providing emergency services must provide language access services in Vietnamese as well. If a city department fails to provide a service in one of the official languages, it can be reported to the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs and an investigation will have to be conducted.

San Francisco deemed this ordinance, “one of the strongest local language laws in the nation”, cementing the city as a national leader in language access. To accommodate the need for more translations, the city hopes to increase its bilingual staff. With the city’s Vietnamese immigrant population on the rise these laws will become helpful for San Francisco’s residents.

Nissa Dotson is a Summer 2024 Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington DC and an undergraduate student at the University of Georgia studying Political Science and International Affairs.