“I feel like I can’t get involved like I want to, to help my daughter. It’s very difficult. Sometimes, it wears me out because I feel powerless.”

Says Edith Rodriguez, a Spanish-speaking mother. It is all too common for non-English speaking parents to feel alienated and powerless to help in their children’s education. 

Bilingual education continues to spark debates between policymakers, teachers, students, and parents. We only need to look at our history as a country to know how to move forward.

From its colonial beginningsbilingual education has existed in the United States in many forms. In the 17th century, Polish immigrants established the first bilingual school in Virginia to the multifaceted bilingual education we have today. 

Regardless, the purpose of translation in education remains the same as it always has: to help students succeed


The purpose of translation

The purpose of translation is more than conveying words. It’s about capturing the heart of a person, too. There are intricacies woven into the way we communicate with each other, especially in terms of cultural meanings and differences. 

Often, small nuances such as colloquialisms or slang can get missed. These small variations in translation can make a big difference.

The goal of translation in the educational system is to ensure that teachers and students are understanding each other on multiple levels. By translating more than words, students are able to understand the concepts teachers are sharing with them. 


Why translation is needed in education

  • Engaging parents in their children’s learning

Parents want to be involved in what their children are learning. Like Edith Rodriguez, many non-English speaking parents feel the barriers created by language. Often, they are left feeling powerless and frustrated, unable to help their children on a basic level. 

There are many ways that translation can help parents engage in their children’s learning process. Giving parents the ability to interact with teachers at parent-teacher conferences is probably one of the most important ways.

More practical ways that translation can help is by notifying families of school closings or delays. It can also help with communicating curriculum requirements.

Research shows thawe unequivocally need parents to engage in their children’s education. When parents are active, students are almost always more successful in their educational careers. Having a translator for parents who are non-English speaking gives them a chance to be regularly engaged in this vital portion of their children’s lives.

  • The success of the students

Teachers provide students with important concepts for application throughout their lives. If a student doesn’t understand a concept, then they simply won’t be able to apply it later. Having the right life skills leads to better success for students, and a fundamental understanding of these lessons is essential.

For students who are non-English speaking or who speak English as a second language, language can quickly become a barrier. It is important to provide these students with the necessary translation to set them up for success. 

More often than not, language conversion for students needs to be in real-time. That means the ability to translate language in both directions simultaneously is needed. Students need to be able to understand what is being taught, and teachers need to understand the questions students are asking. 

  • Compliance with legislation 

Few parents or educational professionals are familiar with legislation requirements when it comes to translation services in schools. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 actually states:

“No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

In August of 2000, Executive Order Number 13166 was signed into law. Its purpose was to begin “Improving access to services for persons with limited English proficiency.”

This law requires federal agencies to examine current services that are provided (if any). They then identify if there is still a need. If there is, federal agencies develop and put in place a system to provide those services.


What do translation services offer?

You may be thinking, “Why not just use something like Google Translate or another “real-time” machine translation solution? They’re easy to use, often free, and many kids often already have some access to them.”

Machine translation, although popular, is inefficient in giving students what they truly need when it comes to translation.

  • Why simple computer programs don’t work

Computer programs do not take into consideration the cultural association of words or the context of a conversation. Remember what we said earlier about small nuances, such as colloquialisms or slang, and how having these small variations in translation can make a big difference?

These tools translate word for word, but they can become confused by idioms, complex phrases, and sentences, leaving the final translation incomplete or extremely inaccurate, especially when trying to describe more complex subject matter that you might find in an educational setting.

  • Why person to person translation does work

People long to connect with each other. We want to sit down and have a conversation face-to-face. Science shows us that the section of our brain that processes rewards gets activated when we see a smiling face. 

Having person who is professionally trained to translate in real-time allows for the cultural background to be considered. A person will be able to navigate complex sentences and emotions in a way that a computer program cannot. 

Utilizing a professional translation service, whether in-person, through a video conference, or over the phone, will ensure that idioms and colloquialisms aren’t missed. It will also ensure that the correct tone or respect is shown in any given circumstance. 

This means that even non-verbal communication is achieved. Eye contact, as well as body language, is very important. Because of this, schools can now offer an amazing service for their students and the student’s parents while also making sure that every important aspect of the curriculum is being understood. 


Translation services: why it’s not complicated

Cross-cultural communication is important in almost every facet of today’s globalized world. Students shouldn’t be held back by the language they speak, which is why highly accurate translation is so important.

By strategically empowering our students and their parents, we can help strengthen our communities. If we start listening to the needs and desires of parents, regardless of language, we can learn a lot about helping our students.

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