Why Language Access Training is Critical and How to Provide It

The success of your language access program is dependent on a well-trained staff. Learn how to provide effective language access training for your staff.
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The success of your language access program is dependent on a well-trained staff.

Staff will not be able to provide meaningful access to non-native English speakers if they do not receive training on language access policies and procedures. Your language access plan is a reference document, useful for laying out all the elements of your program, but it doesn’t work to align people on the goals and enable them to execute the plan. Training is required for that.

For your program to be effective, new and existing staff should periodically receive training on your language access policy, including how to identify language access needs and provide language assistance services to your customers and constituents.

This article will walk you through what you need to do.

Who should you train?

This staff training should be mandatory for all employees who will interact or communicate with non-native speaking individuals, those whose job it is to arrange for language support services, and managers. You’ll need to train everyone who provides services to consumers, such as medical assistants, doctors, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, phlebotomists, and radiologists.

In addition to client-facing clinical staff, others in your organization should be trained in how to identify people who need language assistance, how those people will get language support, and what forms that support takes. These could include security, reception, and other administrative personnel.

What to include in your training?

Include information on language access laws and regulations, how to identify language needs, how to request services, and how to work effectively with interpreters and translators.

You also need to provide cultural competency training to help staff understand the needs and experiences of non-English speakers. This covers topics like cultural norms, values, and beliefs in the cultures you are dealing with. It should also cover strategies for communicating effectively across language and cultural barriers.

Here’s a sample language access training plan:

The importance of language access services Your staff needs to understand the barriers faced by non-native speakers and the impact that effective communication can have on their well-being. 
Anecdotal examples of the barriers and consequences that non-native speakers face related to receiving services are useful to underscore the need for a Language Access Plan.  
Language access legislation Everyone needs to know the regulatory requirements for providing language access assistance to non-native speakers and, equally important, the penalties your organization faces for non-compliance. 
What is cultural intelligence? The concept of cultural intelligence is critical to those who serve multicultural and multilingual populations. This section should explore what it is, the different facets of culture, and how to grow your awareness of cultural differences. The goal is that each employee facing an interaction with your clients has an increased level of cultural competency, the key being empathy.  
Your organization’s language access policies and procedures This includes the services your organization will provide and how they will be provided, including:  
* Procedures for requesting language translation of written documents. 
* Instructions on how to access interpreters for spoken communication.  
* Tools to identify what level of interpretation is needed; OPI, VRI, and simultaneous vs. consecutive interpreting.
How to request and schedule language access services This section should explain whether requesters go directly to your language access coordinator, straight to the resource, or through a vendor?  Is the request a phone call, email, or submittal to a job request portal? Who has the authority to make requests for Language Access support?  
Cross-cultural communications This section will detail how to communicate effectively and respectfully with people who are not native speakers of English or who do not share the majority culture.  
This should cover active listening, using plain language, avoiding open-ended questions, and being mindful of cultural differences.  
Roles and responsibilities This section will cover who does what in your organization to ensure language access needs are met, and how people will work together to get the job done.   

What’s the ideal training format?

Language Access training is best presented in a workshop format (instructor-led combined with roleplaying), either in person or online, followed up with in-person individual coaching. The coach or mentor would simply be someone more experienced than the trainee who can answer questions and provide guidance.

On-the-job training is another important component, providing instruction and reinforcement at the time it’s needed. Your language access coordinator would be responsible for this.

Who should do the training?

Many organizations hire or assign someone as the Language Access Coordinator to drive the language access plan, answer questions, oversee language access requests, and make sure you’re in compliance with state/federal language access legislation. They are the logical choice as a trainer. Otherwise, the person who wrote the language access plan is a good choice.

Next steps

Building a training program that supports your Language Access Plan will give all of your team members the right tools to execute your program, ensure compliance, and provide your clients and constituents with the outcomes they deserve.

If you’d like to learn more about all the components of a language access program, download our e-book Straightforward Guide to Language Access Planning

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