Language Access in Education

Communication is part of daily life for students, parents, educators, and school staff. When language is a barrier, schools are unable to reach their primary goal of helping students succeed. Learn about the impact and importance of language access in schools in America.
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We’ve all felt it before. The stress of being misunderstood, the unease of not understanding, the worry that something will go wrong because the person listening isn’t really hearing you. That feeling is an everyday reality for millions of students and their parents across America. From understanding teachers and school nurses to navigating medical emergencies and reading paperwork, school can quickly become a language minefield for anyone not fluent in English.

So, how important is language access for students in America, and how far do we have left to go before we can consider the American education system equally accessible to all?

The need for educational institutions to prioritize language access is growing. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics: The number of English language learners (ELLs) grew to more than five million in the past decade.

While 77% of ELL students speak Spanish, there are still a wide variety of language needs across the US. According to Pew Research, “in five states, a language other than Spanish was most commonly spoken at home among English learners. In Maine, for example, Somali was the most common language spoken at home. In Vermont, Nepali was.” Pew Research goes on to say, “Arabic was the second-most common language spoken at home by ELL students in 16 states and was among the five most common languages in 39 states.” The stats continue to make it clear that each institution, region, and state requires a unique approach to tackle language access difficulties.

While there is still a substantial disparity in language access in schools in the US, there is a simple solution that any school, university, or government branch responsible for education can quickly implement. But first, how do barriers to language access impact education? We explore two example scenarios below.

Epidemics & State-Wide Emergencies

While COVID-19 improved the state of multi-language communication in many ways, it also brought to light an array of painful gaps in language access across America. For example, in Virginia, an error in the government’s translation process resulted in Spanish readers being told they don’t need to vaccinate. Had a Spanish speaker familiar with medical terminology been involved in the writing or proofreading of the website, the mistake may not have occurred. Technology has provided tremendous leaps in language access. Still, for something as important as the community’s collective health during a pandemic, it’s essential governments and schools seek the input of professional translators and interpreters.

The same is true for other emergencies. While the pandemic required medical terminology, each disaster brings its complications. For example, 120 hurricanes hit Florida between 1851 and 2018, and according to Data US, 30% of Florida’s citizens are speakers of a non-English language. Schools have a duty of care to the students they’re entrusted with and must ensure they’re communicating the correct actions to each child in the case of a hurricane and other natural disasters. Communication starts with advanced preparation and strong partnerships with critical translators.

Language Service Solutions in Schools

Communication is part of daily life for students, parents, educators, and school staff. When language is a barrier, schools are unable to reach their primary goal of helping students succeed. All school’s need a trusted language services provider that offers experienced interpreters, quality translations, on-demand resources, and access to many languages.

There are countless situations when language services are needed in schools. Some common examples are:

  • Interpreters at events, conferences, and meetings
  • Translation of important documents like progress reports, calendars, and syllabi
  • Translation and interpretation through individualized education programming
  • Everyday ASL interpretation
  • Emergency situations

Whether they work in K-12, higher education, or beyond, we’ve found our clients come to us with three main difficulties that prevent them from addressing the negative impacts of poor language access:

1) They often find it challenging to find a translation and interpretation provider that speaks the languages they need. Many schools are language melting pots, and interpretation providers must talk a variety of languages to ensure students aren’t being left out. At the same time, each scenario carries its own nuances, and providers must have the training required to convey medical, educational, or scientific information correctly when the moment strikes.

2) They find it challenging to find an interpreter when they need one. Some of our current clients have struggled in the past when they’ve worked with a single interpreter, as they may not be available at a moment’s notice. When emergencies happen, it’s essential educational institutions can provide their students with interpretation or translation quickly and effectively.

3) They’ve found providers who address all their needs to be expensive. Education budgets can sometimes be tight, which is why we help all our clients find a solution that gets their students the best without going over budget.

At PGLS, we’re proud to offer translation, interpretation, and language training services to schools and other educational institutions in over 200 languages. We understand that each student is unique, so we pay special attention to offering services in the correct regional dialect and providing subject matter experts where necessary.

Get in touch with our team to bring true language equality to your students.