Language Access, Translation & Interpretation: Guidance for Schools and Departments

Families have a right to receive information about their children’s education in their language. Schools should use the following guidelines to plan for the translation needs of each school community. This document is intended to provide more detailed advice on translation and interpretation practices, and to supplement the chart entitled, “How to Access Translation & Interpretation Services.”

When to Translate

Identifying your Translation Priorities

When families are identified who have limited English proficiency, schools should routinely translate information for them, to help them fully participate in their child’s education. If you are not certain, you can view a parent/guardian/caregiver’s language survey in the student’s cumulative file. It contains information about whether the family requires translation and interpretation services.

In addition, schools are encouraged to identify priority languages for your community. These may be your largest language groups, or may be a smaller language group that is more linguistically isolated (has fewer families who are bilingual). This information is easily found in Aspen, using the quick charts function and sorting by Home Language.

Which Documents Must be Translated

Documents that are provided by CPS Administration do not need to be translated by the school. Please contact the appropriate Department head to request the languages that you need.

The current priority languages for the district as a whole are Spanish, Haitian Creole, Amharic, Arabic, and Bengali. When possible and depending on the ages of students or particular schools involved in the communication, we seek to make Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Somali and Korean translations available.

Keep in mind that CPS will prioritize funding for translation based on demand within each school. Do not hesitate to translate documents or provide an interpreter due to lack of funds. The service should be provided and then Contact your Budget Analyst to make necessary budgetary adjustments. That said, it is not always necessary to pay for professional translation or interpretation services, when lower-cost or free options are appropriate.

Budget Friendly Options

Following are alternatives to professional translation and interpretation services. With the exception of #1, most of these options are not appropriate for legal documents or proceedings, or for sensitive or confidential situations. When in doubt, use a professional vendor.

  1. Professional In-Person Interpretation by CPS Bilingual Liaisons
    CPS employs three full-time professional interpreters and bilingual family liaisons, who are part of the Office of English Language Learner Programs. These individuals may provide interpretation for IEP meetings and other confidential or legal meetings, and they are paid through the regular CPS budget.

    Haitian Creole: Jardine Jerome - 617.201.6039
    Spanish: José Rivera - 617.999.8472
    Amharic: Aboma Dirbaba - 857-331-1199
    ELL Programs Office: Blondine Hyppolite- 617-349-6468

  2. Informal, In-Person Language Assistance: Community Engagement Team
    The Community Engagement Team helps CPS better serve diverse families by providing a group of highly trained outreach workers who are personally connected to many of the largest cultural groups in our city. Most of the Outreach Workers are CPS parents or former parents, and they represent the following cultural groups: Spanish-speakers, Haitians, Bengali-speakers, Amharic-speakers, Arabic-speakers, and American Born Black families.

    Every school has a set number of hours of Outreach Worker time that is paid for by CPS, and our contract with them allows us to share parent contact information with them, so that they can assist with family outreach. The leadership of the CET and the Outreach Workers are also available to provide consultation and cultural proficiency training. Outreach Workers may NOT participate in disciplinary hearings, IEP meetings, or any other meeting with legal implications.

    Contact: Hitomi Abe, habe@cambridgema.gov and Cc: Rosalie Rippey, rrippey@cpsd.us

  3. In-House Document Translation
    The Office of ELL Programs manages several service agreements whereby existing CPS staff are paid a per-page rate for document translation. Turnaround time is 1-2 weeks, and the department’s capacity may be limited during busy times. The cost is much lower than Cross Cultural Communication, so if you have time, you may wish to check with them first.

    Always available: Spanish, Haitian Creole, Chinese, French, Portuguese
    Sometimes available: Arabic, Amharic
    Contact: Blondine Hyppolite via email

  4. Using Volunteers
    It is very important to have clear procedures in place for professional translation and interpretation to ensure the service is available any time it is needed, and to ensure student privacy and confidentiality. However, one meaningful and rewarding way to partner with bilingual and multilingual families is to invite volunteers to sign up to provide translation and interpretation for informal and community-oriented events and communications.

    Parents & Families: At the start of the year, you may want to send out an invitation to families who speak more than one language, asking if they would be interested in volunteering by translating short documents or providing language support at upcoming family events. Volunteers should not be used in IEP meetings, disciplinary hearings, or any other legal and/or confidential setting.

    Students (high school only): In general, it is not appropriate to expect students to translate for their parent or guardian. However, at the high school level, student volunteers can receive community service hours by recording phone messages in their home language. Students may also serve as guides at family events. If Upper Schools would like to consider a similar opportunity for students, Greta Hardina at CRLS is a resource for learning more.

**DO NOT Use Google Translate or Other Electronic Translation

Google Translate, along with the translation system used by School Messenger and other translation softwares, are not sophisticated enough to accurately select among alternative meanings of individual words.

–In an emergency situation, poor translations will add to panic, confusion, and frustration.
–In a non-emergency, you should be able to allow enough time to have professional translation or interpretation available using the options in this guide.
–Families often complain that shoddy translation feels disrespectful, confusing and frustrating.

Of course, families may choose to open a phone app or website to translate information they are trying to read or express. This may be appropriate “in a pinch” but is not a replacement for full access to information. In addition, many websites, including the CPS website, use a “Translate” button that web visitors can click to engage electronic translation of the page. In both instances, the person seeking to access the information is choosing to use these tools and will understand their limitations.

Any important information available to other families should be translated by a person, not computer software. Again, based on feedback from local and district experts, we strongly recommend against using electronic translation, ever.

Planning Ahead


Ensuring language access takes time. Even with the fastest turnarounds, you should plan for at least 1 week of additional lead time to accommodate the language needs of your community.

For written documents, the turnaround of 1 day per 1,000 words assumes that the vendor has all of the information they need, including a purchase order and clear instructions. Obviously, longer documents take more time -- and at times it’s possible there will be delays for lower-incidence languages.

Accessing an in-person interpreter also requires advance planning. The more time you have, the better, since interpreters will have diverse scheduling demands. For shorter meetings, using a phone interpretation service on speakerphone is an alternative to consider. In this instance, you still must plan ahead by having an open Purchase Order in place, with funds to pay for the service.

Even when using translators and interpreters, take time to become familiar with the ways that different languages look, and which softwares can handle diverse characters. Microsoft Word does not always handle Arabic, Bengali and Amharic correctly, and is not recommended for those languages unless you have had a fluent speaker confirm that the language is formatting correctly on your computer. Google Docs seems to work well, but when in doubt, use the PDF version provided by the translation vendor.

For more information on the information contained in this guidance document, please contact Rosalie Rippey, CPS Communications Manager.

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