5 Easy Ways to Provide Language Access to Families with Limited English Proficiency


Speaking a language other than English at home is a reality for one in five Americans.

People with limited English-speaking abilities report that language barriers have prevented them from accessing a number of essential services, including:

  • Health care (31%)
  • Applying for government services (25%)
  • Education (24%)

Are we doing enough to make these people feel included in our communities? If you work in education, government, health care, non-profits, or any agency that helps the community, you need to ask yourselves how to be more inclusive.  A simple way to make a huge difference for people is to provide language access to families who have limited English speaking abilities.

Language access – translation or localization services – helps break down these walls and lets them know that you want to help them regardless of the language they speak.

Also, language access isn’t just the right thing to do—if your organization receives federal money, it may also be a legal requirement.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires recipients of Federal financial assistance to take reasonable steps to make their programs, services, and activities accessible by eligible people with limited English proficiency.

5 Practical Steps Toward Inclusion for Multilingual Families

Including families with limited English-speaking abilities doesn’t have to be difficult and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Here are five ways you can help these families feel welcome and included:

Translate essential materials for accessing your service

As noted above, if you take federal funding in any way, you may be required to translate essential documents in order to provide meaningful access for your service. Regardless of those requirements, providing materials in the common languages spoken in your communities can help people take full advantage of services they need and feel welcome. If you identify even a few documents, brochures, application forms, etc. that you can translate for communities, that can help a lot.

Be prepared for translation requests by analyzing the specific demographics of your community. For instance, if a significant portion of your community speaks Spanish and Vietnamese, proactively translating critical documents into these languages can greatly enhance accessibility. This targeted approach makes critical information available to everyone, fosters a welcoming environment, and encourages greater participation from all community members.

To help you get started, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services maintains a list of the top non-English languages spoken in each state. 

Schedule a face-to-face interpreter for in-person and virtual meetings

It’s easier than ever to add an interpreter in a meeting! Most virtual meeting systems (like Zoom) support adding interpreters. Interpreters are also available on-site, over-the-phone, or remotely via video.

Interpreters not only provide language services, they also act as cultural brokers to bridge communication gaps.

To get the most out of your time with an interpreter, here are some simple tips:

  • Provide materials in advance: Give interpreters any relevant meeting materials beforehand to allow for thorough preparation.
  • Introduce interpreters early: Start the meeting by introducing the interpreters and explaining their role to everyone present.
  • Pause regularly: Encourage speakers to pause after each statement, giving interpreters time to translate accurately and completely.
  • Use easy scheduling tools: Providers like Mindlink offer easy-to-use portals for quickly scheduling interpreters, making the process streamlined and efficient.

Offer over-the-phone interpretation

If you operate a telephone hotline, it’s crucial to ensure its accessible to non-English speakers. Partner with a reliable interpreting service that can instantly connect interpreters to your calls.

To get the most out of this service, make sure your staff is trained on how to access interpreters and best practices for working with them. Also, make sure your community knows you have over-the-phone interpretation available.

Add subtitles to video content

Adding accurate subtitles to your videos is an effective way to boost understanding and foster inclusiveness. This feature is available on most video platforms like YouTube, making it simple to implement.

When uploading your video, you can easily add subtitle tracks in different languages. Tools within these platforms guide you through synchronizing the text with the audio. Including both English (or the source language) and a translated language not only enhances accessibility but also helps viewers who are learning English or prefer their native language for better understanding.

Plus, it benefits the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, giving everyone equal access to the information in your videos.

Translate your website

Yes, Google has made it easy to get machine-translated versions of many websites. Yet, Google Translate isn’t perfect, and human-powered translation for web pages remains crucial for inclusivity. Unlike machine translations, human translators understand cultural nuances and can adapt content to be more relatable and accurate for your audience.

This human touch not only improves comprehension but also demonstrates your commitment to making sure everyone has a top-quality user experience when they visit you online.

When translating key pages on your website—like service descriptions, contact information, and FAQs—consider these best practices:

  • Select relevant content: If you can’t translate everything, focus on core pages that provide essential information.
  • Update regularly: Keep all translated content current, accurate and relevant.
  • Mind the design: Make sure that the layout and graphics are culturally appropriate and designed to support text in multiple languages. If your site images include text, don’t forget to translate the text.

From Inclusion to Empowerment with Language Access

Language access is more than just a “nice-to-have”, it’s key to empowering non-native English speakers, helping them take full advantage of the services you offer, and helping them thrive by improving outcomes in critical areas like health and education.

Here are just a few of the many examples of how language access changes lives that we’ve seen in our experience:

  • Interpreting services helped Stanly, a first responder at the World Trade Center whose native language was Polish, to overcome the trauma of that experience.
  • The availability of translated communications and interpreting services in Vietnamese helped the parent of Giang, a Vietnamese-speaking child, address his truancy and get him back into school.
  • A Hindi-English interpreter helped Nirmala, an Indian woman, get the right treatment in the emergency room for her severe abdominal pain.

Creating a formal language access plan makes it easier to provide language access services and to make sure everyone in your community gets the help they need from your organization. To help you get started, download our free Straightforward Guide to Language Access Planning.

Are you ready to go beyond inclusion and start engaging equally with community members regardless of their English-speaking ability? Contact us for a free consultation!

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