Call Maryland's Department of Human Resources and a message will suggest that you "presione el numero dos para continuar en Espanol." Log on to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration's Web site and you can download the state driver's handbook in Spanish.
Inform the clerks at the state Workers' Compensation Commission that you speak only Korean and they'll provide a translator at your hearing free of charge -- though to set it up, you will have to leave a message in English on the commission's "Limited English Proficiency Help Line."
Even as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has dismissed multiculturalism as "bunk" and "crap," state agencies have been moving -- sometimes haltingly -- toward making services accessible to residents who do not speak English.
A state law approved two years ago requires agencies to provide interpreters and translate vital documents when enough residents speak a particular foreign language. If such efforts appear out of sync with Ehrlich's stated desire to promote assimilation, the governor begs to differ.
"My words were very clear," the governor said in an interview. "My comments were not directed to the language issue. They were to make a point about this politically correct movement against assimilation."
Two weeks ago, Ehrlich (R) set off a passionate debate when he defended Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D) for publicly complaining about a difficult experience with a Spanish-speaking employee at a Severna Park McDonald's restaurant.
Asked about Schaefer's remarks, Ehrlich said on WBAL-AM radio: "Once you get into this multicultural crap, this bunk, you run into a problem. With respect to this culture, English is the language. Should we encourage young folks here to be assimilated, to learn the culture and values? Of course."
On the same radio show yesterday, he said that his remarks -- and the criticism he has received from some quarters -- were aimed more at a liberal philosophy than at any state policy. "When you deal with multiculturalism, you're touching one of the sacred grounds for the left," Ehrlich said. "One is abortion, one is gun control and of course multiculturalism being the third."
The governor has voiced support for state policies that benefit those struggling with English, including an education initiative that directs additional aid to schools with a large number of limited-English speakers and a school regulation mandating instruction on other cultures. He said he also supports the state's efforts to make public services accessible in other languages.
According to the 2000 Census, about 5 percent of state residents speak English "less than 'very well,' " with about half of them speaking Spanish and the rest speaking a number of other languages. About 40 percent of the limited-English speakers are concentrated in Montgomery County and another 20 percent in Prince George's -- meaning state offices in those counties must provide vital documents in Spanish and possibly several other languages.
Even in the absence of the state's mandates, the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires all state agencies that receive federal funding to ensure that no one is barred from getting services because of their limited English. For years, many states, including Maryland, ignored that requirement. Then, in 2000, the federal government began issuing a series of guidelines detailing what state agencies must do.
A few states, including Maryland, developed their own laws to comply with federal guidelines, said Ann Morse, program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Under Maryland's law, agencies must translate vital documents such as applications and hearing notices into a foreign language if more than 3 percent of the local jurisdiction they serve speaks that language and does not speak English.
In the District, the D.C. Council approved legislation last month requiring nearly two dozen city agencies to hire bilingual employees and translate official material into Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese and Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, as well as other tongues. The bill also requires the appointment of a citywide language-access coordinator within the D.C. Office of Human Rights.
In Virginia, the legislature has not codified the rules into a law, but many agencies provide these services on their own, said Tim Murtaugh, spokesman for the attorney general's office.
The degree to which state agencies have implemented Maryland's law is unclear. Although the measure will not be fully phased in until July 2006, some agencies -- such as the Department of Motor Vehicles -- are ahead of schedule.
The state Department of Human Resources, which administers many social welfare programs, has translated 50 to 100 documents into Spanish and Russian, given the needs of Baltimore's large immigrant population, said Shelly Mintz, the state attorney general's representative at the department. The department also uses a wide range of interpreters from private firms and the University of Maryland.
"Our goal is to do whatever is reasonable to provide equal access," she said. "So if you are the only person in your jurisdiction who speaks Twi" -- a language spoken in Ghana -- "we may not be able to find a live interpreter for you, but we will have a telephone service that will provide someone on the phone."
The Workers' Compensation Commission also provides interpreters at hearings. However, the chairman, Thomas Patrick O'Reilly, said it does not provide any documents -- including hearing notices and decisions -- in other languages.
Kimberly Propeack, of the immigrant rights group Casa of Maryland, questioned whether the agency is complying with the law. "Don't get me wrong, what the Workers' Compensation Commission is doing now is significantly better than what they were doing before," she said. "But they have a long way to go."
Staff writers Lori Montgomery and Chris L. Jenkins contributed to this report.