Back to School season is filled with routines most parents and their children are familiar with. Families pour over the class syllabus, attend school orientations and curriculum nights in preparation for the new school year. What exciting courses will their kids be taking? Who are their teachers? What options and services are available to ensure that the student succeeds? All this information, and more, is conveyed clearly to students and their parents before and during the start of the school year.
However, there are many other families who require such information to be translated from English into their native language. For limited English proficient (LEP) students, education translation services are the key that opens their door to academic success and enables their parents to be an active and informed participant in their child’s progress.
The U.S Department of Education Office for Civil Rights indicates, “Schools must communicate information to limited English proficient parents in a language they can understand about any program, service, or activity that is called to the attention of parents who are proficient in English.”
Such information may come in the form of:
Not translating education documents may result in missed opportunities for students. For instance, a student whose parents are native Greek speakers missed out on a scholarship due to the fact that her acceptance letter was in English. Not knowing what the letter said, her parents set it aside instead of delivering it directly to their child.
The goal of translating these documents is to not only make information accessible to parents, but to assist them in understanding the nature and purpose of the academic services offered. Just like language, education systems vary for each culture. The concept of remedial education programs, for instance, might be completely new to a parent from outside the U.S. Without a proper explanation in the parent’s language as to what the remedial program does for their child, the parent may feel overwhelmed or develop a negative impression of the program. They may think- “Why is this school treating my child differently from other students?”
Alternatively, by providing professional translations that explain all the services available for their child, parents will be able to understand how certain programs can help their child. They’ll also be more willing to work with the school in developing the child’s academic growth.
The School is responsible for honoring a parent’s request for language assistance, whether it’s in the form of language interpretation in a parent-teacher meeting or written translation of documents.
In setting up an interpretation session or translation assignment, the School must also ensure that those services are sourced from “appropriate and competent” individuals. Professional educational interpreters and translation agencies are best relied upon for such services.
The same applies for written translations of school documents. For such services, it is best to enlist a professional translator who is both experienced in translating educational material and a native speaker of the parent’s language.
While it is tempting for parents to select a bilingual friend or family member to interpret a teacher’s comment, or translate a report card- the result of doing so will more than likely result in meanings being lost and at worst- a complete misinterpretation.
Hazards of misinterpretation may even discourage a parent from actively participating in parent-teacher events. Back when I was an ESL student in elementary school, my father was the designated ‘interpreter’ during parent-teacher conferences. Not having the experience of a professional interpreter, he was unsuccessful in conveying my teachers’ comments to my mother. Overwhelmed by the struggle to understand both my father and my teachers, she eventually chose to involve herself in my academic progress from home but felt isolated from the school community where plenty of English speaking parents participated in all types of student activities.
A Professional Interpreter, who is both experienced in a classroom setting and a native speaker of the language spoken by the parent, opens up a clear channel of communication between the parent and teacher. As a result, parents will want to be a part of the parent-teacher team that is crucial to the success and motivation of the student.
A reported 4.5 million students were identified as English language learners (ELL) during the school year of 2013 to 2014. Of those students, nearly 3.8 million spoke Spanish as their home language. The next most commonly spoken home languages of ELL were Chinese (108,000 students) and Arabic (109,000 students).
These statistics mark an increase in the share of ELL students in public schools from the 2003-2004 school year. In fact, all but 14 states experienced this increase within its school districts. If this pattern continues, especially due to immigration, translations of academic documents will increase in its necessity- at the very least, faculty members who’ve never seriously considered using a professional language translation service must start preparing their budgets for such resources.
All children have a right to quality education, and having the support of their parents and guardians is a big part of their success. School faculty and administration can play a tremendous part by setting forth a plan and budget for translation services that make school documents accessible to parents who speak a native language other than English.