Strategies for Translation Challenges in School Districts

Many school districts across the country face increasing demands on teachers and administrators to communicate with students and parents that have limited or no ability to speak English.

On a recent trip to Florida, I saw this sign in the airport talking about the Orange County Schools. The logistics of managing that number of languages in a district must be incredible. Most districts only have to deal with a few languages.

For the last six years, we have been assisting local school districts with parent and student communication in Spanish, Korean, Russian, and Polish. The districts require assistance with projects like lunch menus, registration forms, web content, curriculum information, and other forms of parent communication. ELL (English language learners) programs do a great job in working with the students during the school day but communication with parents is very important and poses logistical and budgetary challenges for administrators.

Proper communication with the parents is essential in getting the students to progress in our education system. Here are a few strategies that we have seen our clients use to save time and money.

  • Reduce content for multilingual communications to only the key information
    Our districts use automated phone messages to announce weather closings. Typically the English message talks about the amount of snowfall, the reason for closure, etc. The translated version typically just announces the closure. This allows that part of the message to be used over and over again.
  • Utilize in-house resources for as many projects as possible, especially for low-risk projects
    Since most districts with non-English speakers have ELL programs it would follow that some bilingual teachers are in the program. It makes sense to use their abilities as much as possible to save money.
  • Use language service providers that utilize translation memory technology
    TM technology will save you money on future updates. This is extremely important for documents like school policy, registration forms, and school menus that tend to only require small updates.
  • Negotiate a lower rate or ask for some pro bono service
    Hopefully, you can appeal to the language service provider's good nature to provide a discount or even some pro bono projects.

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