Professional translation and interpreting services share importance in the American educational system. These services ensure clear and accurate communication between school officials and their students, as well as with parents/guardians.
According to studies, one out of every ten students in a public school is just starting to learn English for the first time. This already large number continues to grow each year. Federal law protects these students’ right to be educated through Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in the operation of any federally assisted program. For schools, this translates to a mandate to provide English Language Learners (“ELLs”) an equal opportunity to progress academically as their English-fluent peers.
English Language Learners
Did you know there are nearly 5 million ELLs across American public schools today? The vast majority of ELLs (3.8 million students) speak Spanish. However, there are many other popular languages spoken by ELLs, including Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Vietnamese, and Arabic. Studies show that most ELLs were born in the United States and raised in families where either no one speaks English or English is not the dominant spoken language.
The state with the highest number of ELLs currently is California – which contains 29% of all ELLs nationwide. Next is the state of Texas, with 18%, followed by Florida with 5% and New York with 4%.
Translation vs. Interpretation
Let’s take a step back and define translation and interpretation to understand their value to the educational system.
Translation refers to the written word. Within a school, this applies to the translation of written materials, including everything from policies, school enrollment forms, Individualized Education Program documents, and disciplinary actions, to textbooks, homework assignments, and tests. Interpreting is the transformation of the spoken word from one language into another. An example within a school setting might include the use of an interpreter at a parent-teacher conference, where the parents or guardians of the child do not speak English.
In a previous blog, “The Struggle to Understand” How English Affects the Learning of Immigrant Students”, our Director of Localization and Innovation, Mohamed Hassan, described his family’s experience transitioning into an American public school system after moving to the U.S. from Egypt. In his blog, he reviewed how social English differs from academic English (adding an easily overlooked language barrier), what accommodations are available for standardized testing, and how culture plays a huge role in understanding basic academic studies (such as the use of different measurement units).
Educational Expectations – Translation
All the examples Mohamed shared regarding his family’s experience showcase why translation and interpreting have become indispensable in education. In today’s public-school system, students and parents have the right to communicate in a language they understand. It is the school district’s responsibility to have specific documents translated and available for the ELLs and/or LEP parents/guardians. A few examples include:
- School registration & enrollment documents
- Grades, academic standards, and graduation information
- School rules and disciplinary policies
- Attendance, absences, and withdrawal procedures
- Parent permission forms for activities or programs
- School closure information and policies
- Access to special programs or services such as ESL studies (English as a Second Language)
- Special education and services for students with disabilities
When it comes to actual school work – textbooks, homework assignments, tests, and the like – translation is often the #1 choice to ensure ELL students’ actual, academic abilities shine without interference from language barriers. In our blog, “Overcoming Low Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency,” our own in-house counsel challenged herself to step into the shoes of an ELL and solve a math “word problem” written in Japanese … and failed epically. This exercise highlights the importance of translation, combined with other language resources, to ensure student success.
Educational Expectations – Interpretation
The educational system has many opportunities when it comes to providing interpretation services for ELLs and/or LEP parents/guardians. In-person interpreting is a helpful resource for parent-teacher conferences, special events, or for assistance with testing. Video remote or over-the-phone interpreting are good options to assist urgent or unplanned situations or general classroom lectures/studies. When students or parents/guardians need assistance with documents that haven’t been translated, on-site interpreters can site translate to facilitate communication.
Vocalink Global provides ELL programs in many school districts with both interpreting and translation support. We work with our clients to create the right language solutions to meet their needs. With a full suite of translation and interpretation services available, we customize a solution with the goal of seamless communication. Connect with us today to learn more.