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If you’re thinking of moving to the United States, you’ve probably wondered how to become a US citizen without speaking English. In this article we will tell you everything you need to know about the subject. 

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How To Become A US Citizen Without Speaking English In 2023

Often one of the main problems for Hispanic immigrants is the command of the English language. The language barrier not only limits the daily development but also to achieve better jobs in various fields.

In addition, to become a United States citizen, proficiency in the English language is essential. This is one of the tests that all national foreigners must pass to obtain naturalization in the United States. 

However, certain aliens who do not speak English perfectly, but meet all other requirements, may become US citizens. 

how to become an american citizen if i don't know english

What Does The English Test Consist Of?

The test to become a US citizen consists of two parts: 

  • An English language proficiency test (oral, read and written);
  • A civics or United States history test.

Both exams are taken in English.

Who Is Exempt From The English Language For Citizenship Test?

Aliens who meet any of these conditions do not need to take the English test:

  • Over 50 years old and have lived in the US as permanent residents for more than 20 years.
  • 55 years of age or older at the time of applying for naturalization and have lived for at least 15 years in the US as permanent residents.
  • Over the age of 65 and have held a permanent resident card for at least 20 years. 

National foreign residents located in this age range also have special consideration. They can take the civics exam with less rigorous content. They will ask you fewer questions and you will be able to submit it in your own language.

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How Do I Make An Appointment For The Naturalization Interview At USCIS If I Do Not Speak English?

  • At Lluis Law we advise our clients to always be accompanied by a person who has a perfect command of the English language. 
  • Through an interpreter (relative, friend or hired professional) the aspiring American citizen can make the request.

The person you choose as an interpreter should preferably be of legal age, a US citizen or resident.

Our firm is responsible for facilitating the entire process for the client, so you do not have to worry about anything. Not only can we prepare you for the exam, but we will even tell you how to dress for the citizenship interview.

Can I request and exemption From Taking The Citizenship Test?

Some permanent residents may be eligible to apply for an exception to take the naturalization test (civics and English test). The reason may be a physical or mental disability, which prevents the applicant from taking the exam correctly.

For example:

  • Cerebrovascular accident (CVA).
  • Learning difficulties.
  • Serious mental illness: dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or others.
  • Multiple sclerosis (a degenerative disease that affects the nerves of the brain and spinal cord).
  • Heart failure, atherosclerosis and high blood pressure that prevent one from taking English classes.

How To Apply For A Disability Exemption?

  • The applicant must file with USCIS Form N-648, along with the application for naturalization (Form N-400).
  • The form must be filled out by your doctor and you could also bring it with you on the same day of the interview.

Within the answers to the questions posed on the Form N-648, the doctor must describe in detail how said disability prevents the applicant from learning or adequately responding to the exam. 

The immigration officer reviewing the Form N-648 will approve the exemption if this requirement is fully met.

What Type Of Disability Is Not Allowed?

Before submitting the exemption request, please note the following:

  • The disability must last at least 12 months; and
  • Not be the result of the use of prohibited drugs. 

If the applicant is found to be using illegal drugs, USCIS will deny the application. But it could also place the applicant in removal proceedings. 

Before submitting the application, please speak with an immigration attorney to ensure that everything is in order.

english requirement for citizenship in usa

What Information Must The Doctor Include On The Form N-648?

  • Diagnosis of illness/disability.
  • Origin of disability explained in simple and understandable terms.
  • Nexus or symptoms of the disability that prevent the submission of the exam.
  • Physician’s effect or conclusion as to why the applicant cannot take the test.

Also add: 

  • Specific examples of how the patient’s symptoms affect their cognitive functioning. It should be clearly stated if the patient’s disability affects their ability to learn English and/or civics. 
  • Make a statement of the disability in clear and unequivocal language. For example, “Because of his disability, Mr. X cannot learn enough English and civics to pass the citizenship test.”

Examples Of Relevant Symptoms To Request Exemption From The Citizenship Test

Some symptoms that may serve to justify how the applicant’s disability affects their learning and retention are:

  • Memory impairment preventing you from learning and retaining new information or remembering previously learned.
  • Concentration and focus difficulties.
  • Disorientation, confusion, or delirium.
  • Difficulties of expression and articulation of language or listening comprehension.
  • Constant fatigue and hopelessness/depression that prevent your concentration to learn.
  • Anxiety, stress or paranoia that prevent communication of what has been learned and generate unpredictable behavior.
  • Learning problems that affect their ability to read and write.

Can Elderly Applicants Qualify For An N-648?

No, because being old only is not considered a disability to take the citizenship test. Unless the applicant suffers from any of the symptoms previously described that prevent them from learning.

In that case, the doctor must clearly indicate that the inability to take the exam is not due to the patient’s age but to a physical or mental disability.

What Happens When The Applicant Is Illiterate?

USCIS also does not consider it sufficient for the person to be illiterate in their native language to approve the exemption. Although if it is determined that the applicant’s illiteracy is the product of a disability, it does proceed.

Especially when the person comes from a country with a precarious educational system for special people. Similarly, the doctor should emphasize that the difficulty in learning English lies in the underlying disability.

the importance of the english language to become a us citizen

Can I Be Exempt From Taking The English Test If I Have A Physical Disability?

No. Unless the disability affects your ability to learn the English language. 

Being deaf, dumb or blind, for example, is not in itself considered a learning disability. If the doctor considers that the disability prevents the person from taking the exam, they must explain why.

  • A blind patient would be exempt from the written test but has to take the oral English test.
  • A deaf patient would take only the written or sign language English test. Unless with the help of the sign language they can overcome that handicap.  

Special Accommodations For People With Disabilities

Form N-648 also offers the possibility for a disabled person to take the English test with certain special adaptations. In this way, the citizen applicant can mitigate the causes that prevent them from submitting the test.

When filling out the form, the applicant must clearly describe such accommodations:

  • Ask for additional time to complete the test or to be allowed to take some breaks while taking the test.
  • Request a sign language interpreter if the applicant is deaf-mute.
  • Allow family members to be present during the exam for emotional support or at the time of signing.
  • Answer questions in writing or other non-verbal forms of language if unable to speak.
  • Take the exam in a different place because you cannot appear at the USCIS offices due to your disability.

If I Am Exempt From The English Test, Will I Need To Take The Civics Test?

Yes. The exemption from the English test does not exempt the applicant from taking the civics test. Except that their disability also prevents them from doing so.

However, you will have the ease to submit it in your native language and respond through an interpreter. 

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What Happens If The USCIS Officer Does Not Approve The Exemption Request?

If the official is not satisfied with the information provided and the reasons for requesting the exemption, they simply do not approve it. 

You will most likely be given another chance to provide additional information and/or take the history test and the English test.

When this occurs it is advisable to speak with an experienced immigration law firm. They will review the application and will surely be able to determine what you must do to satisfy the USCIS requirements.

Why Doesn’t USCIS Approve An Exemption Request?

Most likely because the doctor who filled out the Form N-648:

  • Was unable to explain why the applicant was disqualified from taking the exam.
  • I did not have the necessary experience/knowledge to diagnose the disability mentioned.

It is advisable that the doctor who completes the form is a specialist in the field. Only then will they be able to diagnose the disease, explain the problem and recommend an appropriate treatment.

After The Exemption Request Is Approved, Do I Have To Take The Oath Of Citizenship?

Yes. All persons applying for the naturalization test must:

  • Prove that they understand the citizenship application they are making;
  • Take an oath to become citizens. 

If the immigration officer finds that the individual is unable to understand what they are applying for, they will not approve the application. As you can see, becoming a US citizen without speaking English is possible, but of course, there are limits.

Is It Possible To Take The Naturalization Test In Another Language?

In some cases it is possible, as stated above, if the applicant meets the exception requirements. That is, age, permanent residence status, and being accompanied by a qualified interpreter.

Aspects To Consider About The Certification Of The Interpreter

  • All documents/communications submitted by the applicant and physician including Form N-648 must be translated into English. 
  • They must contain the name, address and signature of the interpreter.
  • If the interpreter provides services over the phone, the physician must include this information on the form. Although the certification of the form by the interpreter is not required.

How can I become a citizen if I don’t know English? You see, if you have any difficulty learning English, USCIS could approve an exemption. We hope we have been able to clear your doubts about how to become an American citizen without speaking English. 

If you want to know more about the requirements to submit the citizenship test or are looking for the best immigration lawyer in Los Angeles, count on us. We are experts in all types of American visasfamily petitionsadjustment of status and waivers of inadmissibility, among many other reliefs and immigration benefits. Call now!


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