April 6th, 2021

Overcoming Language Barriers: 3 Things to Consider in 2021

Anyone who works in a school or school district knows the importance of engaging with students’ guardians. The benefits are researched and widely accepted, which drives you to do what it takes to reach your students’ families. But what about families who speak a language other than English? Are you able to reach them? Are they able to reach you?

According to the US Census, there are over 350 languages spoken in America, with some districts seeing over 50% of their population speaking a language other than English. Even smaller suburban and rural districts are seeing an increase in their language diversity. This leaves many school districts struggling to reach all families and leaves families hungry for information about their child’s education.

In order to ensure that you are empowering families who are speakers of any language to engage in and take ownership of their child’s education, there are three main things to consider:

1. Your Changing Demographics In the past, your district looked different. You may have had fewer speakers of languages other than English or even fewer languages represented altogether. And you may have found solutions to help you communicate with these families, and that’s a great start! But just as your demographics are changing, so must your solutions. Do you know who in your district speaks what languages and which schools they attend? Do you know how to communicate with them? And do they know how to communicate with those who work with their children? We must find tools that allow our entire community to engage equitably, without allowing language to be a barrier. And we must have the data to back that up. In one SchoolCNXT partner district, 95 languages are represented. They are confident knowing that they have done what is necessary so that these families can engage with their child’s school community. They are also able to see data such as how these families specifically are engaging with the platform and which schools they attend.

2. Low-Incidence Languages There are some language groups for which school districts have found effective solutions! There are other, lower incidence language groups, however, which are unfortunately overlooked. Whether or not they are new to a district, it may be difficult to find adequate solutions for communicating with these groups or the population may be small enough that reaching them has not yet become a priority. However, all stakeholders involved know that solutions must be found that work for these families, too. This is why SchoolCNXT offers two-way translation in over 100 languages. As Matt Smith, Associate Superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools says, “SchoolCNXT has helped us to lift up and celebrate cultural differences and the strength and beauty of DMPS that is diversity.”

3. Languages With No Machine Translation Some of these low-incidence languages may not have solutions readily available because of most systems’ reliance on machine translation. Soninke, for example, is a language from West Africa, spoken mostly in Mali, Senegal, and the surrounding countries. It is largely an oral language and there is no formal written language. Therefore, machine text translation will never be available. In response to this, SchoolCNXT created a feature by which an audio recording can be created by any family volunteer or staff member who speaks the language. So, when a Soninke speaking guardian translates the post, they will simply hear the recording of the information in Soninke. This has been a huge relief to NYC Principal Luis Torres, who has a large population of Soninke speakers in his school. “The greatest thing about working with SchoolCNXT is that it is creating a bridge to families that we normally would not be able to communicate with. So having an app to be able to support their needs and the needs of the school is very important.” Click here to learn more.

You know the benefits of including families and encouraging them to be active stakeholders in their children’s education. Now, for the sake of your students, their families, and the culture of schools and districts, it is time to make sure that you are doing the work necessary to include all families, no matter what languages they speak.  

Emily Williams, SchoolCNXT Customer Success and Former Classroom Teacher

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