The Top 9 Challenges of Language Access for Schools

To support students and their families who speak English as a second language, schools must provide a complete range of translation and interpretation resources to bridge communication gaps. Language access is a critical component that must be in place to support a large percentage of students in the United States. Look at the stats:  

  • Over 5 million students in the United States education system who are English learners (i.e., spoke English as a second language); that’s over 10% (National Center for Education Statistics) 
  • Within Washington and Oregon, the percentage is above the U.S. average in Washington (11.8%) and slightly under in Oregon (9.3%) 

By making language access resources available, schools can empower non-native-speaking students and their families to fully participate in the educational process. This leads to improved academic outcomes for the students and schools, along with increased family engagement. 

These resources should include translating essential documents, such as report cards and parent-teacher conference materials, into students’ native languages. Interpretation services should also be offered during parent-teacher conferences, meetings, and other interactions to ensure effective communication. Additionally, language support should be provided for student assessments to enable non-native speakers to demonstrate their knowledge and skills accurately.  

Why Language Access Is Important (And Also Why It’s Complicated) 

Language access is a critical component of creating a supportive and inclusive environment for non-native-speaking students and their families. When students and families are able to communicate effectively with teachers, administrators, and other school staff, it can open the door to a multitude of benefits. High-quality translation and interpretation services help non-English speaking community members resolve problems, learn, connect, feel included, experience equity, and thrive. 

Let’s look at the top 3 reasons why full language access programming is critical:  

  • Equity in education: Language access is fundamental to ensuring that all students, regardless of their language background, have equal opportunities to succeed academically and socially in school. 
  • Legal obligations: Federal and state laws require schools to provide language access services to ensure that non-English speaking students and their families can participate fully in the educational process. 
  • Improved outcomes: When children and their families have translated materials and access to interpreters, everyone benefits. Grades improve, parents feel like they belong in the community, parental involvement improves, attendance improves, and access to educational services improves. 

However, providing language access is not without its challenges. It requires a significant investment of resources, including trained interpreters and translators, language-specific materials, and staff who are culturally competent and understanding of the needs of non-native-speaking students and families. 

Despite these challenges, the importance of language access cannot be overstated, and schools that prioritize it are likely to see significant improvements in student outcomes and overall school success.  

The Top 9 Challenges of Language Access for Schools 

As schools strive to provide a supportive and inclusive environment for all students, they often face significant obstacles when it comes to language access for non-native-speaking students and their families. 

Here are the top 9 challenges of language access that schools commonly encounter: 

  1. Qualified bilingual resources —Finding qualified bilinguals to help translate and interpret in all needed languages with little advanced notice can be incredibly difficult, especially for languages with fewer native speakers, such as Somali and Vietnamese. Conversely, finding qualified personnel in a majority-spoken language, such as Spanish, is typically easier. Also, resources must be knowledgeable about working specifically in an educational setting.
  2. Managing logistics—There’s a lot to manage between booking interpreters, checking credentials, making sure they show up, completing any follow-up tasks, and making payments.
  3. Training—Your internal people will need to know what language access is and how to provide it because it doesn’t happen by itself. This level of training should be mandatory for all employees who will interact or communicate with non-native-speaking students and family members and everyone whose job it is to arrange for language support services.
  4. Cultural Sensitivity and Awareness—Schools often struggle to provide language services that are not only linguistically accurate but also culturally appropriate. Simple misunderstandings can snowball into much larger problems when language services don’t understand cultural nuances. Take the example of students needing to fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Schools need to understand that students won’t eat breakfast or lunch. They would also need to understand that students who are fasting will likely have a more difficult time with their lessons or physical activity.
  5. Integration with school technologies—As schools increasingly use technology for teaching and learning, ensuring that these technologies are accessible in multiple languages can be challenging. This includes translating online content and interfaces and providing support for non-English-speaking parents and students to use these technologies effectively.
  6. Legal compliance and standards—Schools must understand and navigate complex legal requirements regarding language access since failing to comply can lead to severe legal challenges and penalties. This can be a difficult hurdle, given the various standards in place across different states and districts.
  7. Cost and budgeting—Providing comprehensive language access can be expensive. Schools need to budget for translation and interpretation services, training, and technology, which can be a significant financial burden, especially for districts with limited resources. A Language Services Provider (LSP) like MindLink can help you understand the costs of a language access program.
  8. Training—Each school must train teachers, counselors, and administrative staff in best practices for language access. This includes information about language access policies and procedures, cultural competence, and the use of language access technologies.
  9. Measuring effectiveness—It can be hard for schools to know if all their efforts to provide language access have paid off. Effective tracking requires a combination of data analysis, student feedback, program evaluation, and robust software – a tall order for even the most well-funded schools. Even with the above in place, without a clear understanding of what to track and what not to, schools risk needlessly using ineffective strategies, wasting valuable resources, and leaving students and families without the support they need. 

Overcome Language Access Challenges with the Right Partner 

Providing effective language access in schools can be tough. Schools often struggle to find qualified teachers and interpreters for less common languages. Managing the logistics of booking, credentialing, and paying interpreters, along with training staff in language access and cultural sensitivity, adds to the challenge. Integrating language support with school technologies, navigating legal compliance, and managing costs can feel overwhelming. 

 Partnering with an experienced language access vendor can help. Not only can they help you build a comprehensive language services plan, but a good vendor has a large database of qualified professionals for quick support, even for rare languages. They handle logistics, freeing up school administrators to focus on their core duties. Skilled vendors assist with planning and budgeting for language access programs, ensuring efficient resource use. They also offer comprehensive training for staff and provide tools to track the effectiveness of language access efforts through data analysis and feedback. 

By partnering with a reliable provider like MindLink schools can effectively support non-native-speaking students and their families, fostering an inclusive educational environment. 

How MindLink Can Help You 

MindLink supports schools, governments, medical clinics, and non-profits by providing translation and interpretation services for non-native English speakers. Our job portal, LinguistLink, makes managing assignments and logistics a breeze, helping community members learn, connect, participate, and thrive. 

We also offer services to develop language access strategies, including needs assessments, quality audits, and language access plan development. On top of that, we create training materials and help to optimize processes to make sure all communication is seamless. 

LinguistLink takes the hassle out of providing language access services by connecting you with qualified translators and interpreters. It handles all the scheduling and logistics while also providing useful analytics and tracking, giving you better visibility and control of your metrics. 

At Mindlink, our dedicated team designs flexible and comprehensive solutions to help you serve your community better through improved language access for everyone. 

Your Next Steps 

If you’re ready to get started on turning that “nice to have” language access into a fully implemented, community-first “must-have”, then we’re ready and available to help answer any of your questions. 

 

Contact us for a free consultation. 

 

 

 

Stats from: (loosely quoted because the stats are from 2020) 

1“Percentage of Public School Students Who Were English Learners (ELs), by State: Fall 2020.” Nces.Ed.Gov. March 31, 2021. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=96#:~:text=The%20percentage%20of%20public%20school,%2C%20or%205.0%20million%20students). 


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