Show others you speak their language with a special patch for your uniform

This summer, Scouts from across the globe will descend on the Summit Bechtel Reserve for the 24th World Scout Jamboree. (Visit wsj2019.us to learn how to join this global celebration.) For nearly two weeks, the West Virginia hills will ring with the sounds of dozens of languages, and the most popular Scouts in camp may well be those with good language skills. Many of those Scouts will be sporting interpreter strips on their uniforms to simplify multilingual meetups.

What is an interpreter strip?

It’s a small patch indicating that the wearer knows a language other than English. The language he or she speaks appears on the patch in that language — “Español” for Spanish, “日本語 for Japanese, etc. — so speakers of that language can easily spot a willing interpreter.

Do you have to be fluent to wear an interpreter strip?

Not entirely. However, you must be able to carry on a five-minute conversation in the language, translate a two-minute speech or address, write a letter in the language and translate 200 written words from the language.

Who can wear an interpreter strip?

Any youth or adult who meets the requirements listed previously.

Who determines whether a person qualifies for an interpreter strip?

The unit leader is the best option, although if he or she doesn’t speak the language, it makes sense to involve a native speaker or a language teacher. A simple form to use is available at go.scoutingmagazine.org/interpreterform. Note that this form doesn’t have to be turned in to purchase an interpreter strip at the Scout shop.

For which languages are interpreter strips available?

Cantonese (No. 404), Dutch (No. 393), French (No. 391), German (No. 392), Greek (No. 405), Hebrew (No. 18039), Italian (No. 400), Japanese (No. 406), Portuguese (No. 401), Russian (No. 402), Simplified Mandarin (No. 407), Spanish (No. 395), Traditional Mandarin (No. 408), Vietnamese (No. 409), American Sign Language (No. 18025) and Morse code (No. 615120).

American Sign Language and Morse code? How do those work?

The requirements are the same as those listed previously for sign language, except that you don’t have to write a letter in the language. For Morse code, you must be able to carry on a five-minute conversation, correctly copy a two-minute message (in other words, write it down as it’s transmitted) and send a 25-word written document, all at a speed of at least five words per minute.

Where is the patch worn?

Centered just above the Boy Scouts of America strip on the uniform.

Can someone wear more than one interpreter strip?

No. You can earn more than one interpreter strip, but you can wear only one at a time. If an interpreter strip is not available in a particular language, they may be ordered through National Supply as long as at least two are ordered.

12 Comments

  1. Good afternoon, I am writing regarding the wearing of the interpreter strip on uniforms. I read with interest that no matter how many interpreter strips that a person has earned, only one may worn on a uniform. I would like to know who made this decision and why? The purpose of the strip would be to alert a non English speaking overseas Scout/Scouter that you are at least conversant in that person’s own language. Given the large amount of overseas Scouts who will be at WJ, this is one of the rare events in which the interpreter strip would come in handy. What is wrong with wearing more than one? Is someone in Texas concerned that there will be people loading up on them like the people I see who wear 18-20 square knots (actually the most that I have seen on a uniform shirt was 28)? Personally, in addition to English, I speak Spanish, Creole (Haitian variety), and Latvian. What exactly is wrong if I were to wear all 3 of them I am at the WJ next year? The Latvians will all be English speakers. I know them, no problem. But I do know that some of the Haitians are weak in English and could use some help. Actually I am unaware of the existence of Creole strips and I have a Latvian one, the old red style. Otherwise, your article on Interpreter Strips was well written, informative, and useful to anyone who wonders what they are. Thanks for your time, WWW, YIS, David Rohlfing, Southbury, Conn., 50+ years

  2. I echo the previous comment. Is this a formal change to the BSA Guide to Awards and Insignia? If so, it is not indicated on the current scouting.org online version. Will it be coming out in a future version of the Guide? If so, shouldn’t the Scouting Magazine article have been more specific that this constituted a change to guidance?

    I’m not certain for the reason behind the change. Interpreter strips contribute to international fellowship among Scouts; I would think that should be encouraged. This is the first time I’ve heard of the BSA discouraging Scouts from taking credit for their accomplishments via patches on uniforms.

  3. I wear Español…have pretty well lsot all the German I used in that country a half-century ago. My Englsih class students in México asked if I would also be teaching “Espanglish”; No. I have a Scouter friend who speaks 8 languages including ESL, by the Scouts in our troop from México and other Latin American countries thought he “talked funny”, because he learned Spanish in Spain.

  4. Is this just Scouts BSA, or can Cubs wear the strip as well. I have two Bears who might have a different home language. I’d like for them to take pride in being bilingual if possible.

  5. I am old school! I was required to learn it in order to earn my First Class Morse Code. I did all that I could to work around the Morse Codes. Finally on a Christmas school break, I taught myself the code 5 characters per day. Learend the code, sent a 20 word message and receive a message. Got First Class. Whew! A couple years forward, I had to join a service. I selected US Navy. He asked what I wanted to do. I said I want to be in Cryptography. The recruiter said, “I will give you the Code aptitude Test. I remembered the Morse Code. Got every one of the letters and numbers. So, I got a paying job directly from that darn first class requirement. Got so that I could copy Morse at 75 groups per minute Some language I could read, some I could gist.

  6. Dennis, I too am from that era, learned Morse for 1st Class. My father told me that in his time as a Scout (1933-38) he had to learn both semaphore and Morse to advance to Second Class and then to First Class (don’t know the order, but true). I liked it, earned Signaling MB, ended up a radio amateur, taught Signaling MB in 80s and until dropped in 1992. Our Scout Shop mgr gave me the now discontinued badges and handbooks rather than throw them out. I took them and put them in a box in a basement closet. Then, 18 years later, Signaling and 3 other MBs were brought back for the 100th Anniversary. I let it be known that I was a counselor and not only that, I had vintage merit badges to award instead of the poor copies that National had. I qualified 7 for the badge. We still do flags at our Klondike Derby here, about every 3 years. It is popular and generally a picture of it is run in our local paper!

  7. I have worn two foreign language interpreter strips for decades. When the BSA added the Morse Code Interpreter Strip, I added that to my uniform, so now I wear three. Since reading in the Jan-Feb 2019 edition of Scouting Magazine that no more than one interpreter strip may be worn at a time, I have scoured the BSA materials on this subject, and nowhere do I find anything that states that only one may be worn. The BSA Guide to Awards and Insignia is silent on the issue of quantity. However, MeritBadge.Org states, “More than one Interpreter Strip may be worn, one immediately above the other — one for each language the member qualifies.” ScoutInsignia.com states, “there is no prohibition on wearing more than one,” although the writer (Mike Walton) recommends no more than three (his opinion). I realize these are not official BSA publications, so clarification from an official source would be appreciated. Personally, I believe that limiting the quantity to one would be counterproductive. I’ve had many a foreign language conversation and even made new friends as a result of wearing my (multiple) interpreter strips. See you at World Jamboree!

    • There is no online reference from any official BSA resource that states that only one strip ma be worn at a time.

      I’ll note that there are instances in the Guide to Advancement that quote the Scouts BSA handbook for reference and working off that, I checked my son’s handbook. The strip is mentioned and there’s no reference to the number that’s permissable to wear at any time. I’m a stickler on things like this and I say, of there’s nothing that if the number impedes the proper wear of other items that are authorized above the right pocket, then wear them. If they will, and one wants to wear other items, wear what fits while complying with location guidelines.

  8. Is there any way to get or develop interpreter strips for languages not currently offered? I have a scout in my pack who is Oneida. Are we allowed or make interpreter strips locally, or do we have to stick with what we can find at th scout shop?

  9. The article claims that it can be done. I have contacted National Supply about it as I speak Latvian and Creole. To date I have heard nothing about it. I can tell you that Scouts Canada offer an incredible variety, including Latvian. Don’t know what (their term in Canada) First Nations languages are offered.

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