“My School Needs a Translator!”

Schools and school districts need translators and interpreters to work with students and families throughout the year. In fact, this is a requirement according to U.S. state and federal laws. That’s why we hear teachers and administrators say: “My school needs a translator!” As a former classroom teacher in K-12 schools and, more recently, for adult ESL classes, I love working with schools to provide language access. This may be translating written materials or interpreting at meetings or on phone calls.

Most large school districts have full- or part-time translators/interpreters on staff, but many smaller districts do not. For example, rural schools, charter schools and private schools usually don’t have someone in this position. The role oftentimes falls upon whichever staff members are bilingual. This can be problematic for three reasons. First, your bilingual staff member may feel this is yet another task being added to their already-long list of duties, thus causing resentment. Second, some bilingual speakers are not necessary strong translators or writers. Third, your school could be missing out on having someone who is specifically trained in translation and interpretation techniques—methods and ethics that will help strengthen relationships between parents, teachers, students and administrators.

So many things can be translated for your students and families: back-to-school night guides, letters to parents and guardians, report cards, class websites, curriculum guides and more. Interpreting is often needed for parent-teacher conferences, student learning assessments and IEP meetings. Once you know what your needs are, make sure to tell your translator or interpreter what you want students or parents/guardians to get out of the material or meeting. If a written document is to be translated, tell your translator what the reader’s overall reading level is; this will help the translator to choose appropriate vocabulary and style for the document.

For more guidance and resources about providing language services in your school or district, I highly recommend visiting this website: U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights: Resources for Students, Parents and Education Officials.

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