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Back to School: How Phone Interpretation Services Help Teachers Stay Connected

Lionbridge phone interpreters help teachers communicate with non-English speaking families

This fall’s back to school season is like no other. Due to concerns over COVID-19, many students are going back to school remotely or using a blended model of in-person and virtual. During such unprecedented times, clear and quick communication with families is more important than ever. Lionbridge’s over-the-phone interpretation can help bridge the gap between teachers and non-English speaking families. 

Over half of U.S. elementary and high school students will attend classes only virtually this fall, creating concerns over unequal digital access to learning. Students who are learning English—who make up 10% of students today—or whose families may not be proficient in English have a unique challenge in staying engaged. With the help of Lionbridge’s real-time phone interpretation services, teachers can communicate with a student’s family to make sure every student gets the attention they need. 


What is Over-the-Phone Interpretation?

Over-the-phone interpretation, or OPI, uses remote interpreters to translate conversations in real time. To use over-the-phone interpretation, a user connects with an experienced interpreter via phone, and either conferences in the other party or places the remote interpreter on speakerphone for an in-person conversation.  

Interpreters are knowledgeable about the specific industry in which they are working, and go beyond translation, accounting for cultural nuances or changes in idioms between languages. Since there is very little room for error, telephone interpreters are usually highly qualified professionals with a wealth of knowledge and experience in their selected field. 


How COVID-19 Affects Interpretation in K-12 Schools

As schools quickly transitioned to remote learning in March, time-tested practices in communicating across language barriers were thrown into disarray. Many school districts found it more cost-effective and efficient to use remote phone interpreters for communicating between teachers and non-English speaking families as schools moved to a virtual setting. 

Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island had previously relied on bilingual staff and on-site interpreters to communicate between teachers and parents prior to the pandemic, but were unable to continue this practice after classes moved remotely. Their usage of Lionbridge’s over-the-phone interpretation services increased over tenfold in one month during the last half of the Spring 2020 semester and has continued to be in-demand this school year.  Remote phone interpreters have helped teachers connect with students’ families, no matter what language, and received rave reviews


"The barriers between a teacher, a student and the student's family have to be minimal right now," said Susan Gryder, Director of Sales for Over-the-Phone Interpretation (OPI) at Lionbridge.


In such a tumultuous time, fast and reliable onboarding is necessary to ensure students are getting the attention they need. Thus far in the month of September, Lionbridge has provided telephonic interpretation to schools across the country in  over 50 unique languages, using 120,000 minutes overall. 

Schools are required to provide translation and interpretation services for any family who needs them, per federal regulation. To meet that requirement, an interpreter needs to be trained in interpretation and be familiar with specialized concepts and terminology in education, as well as the need for confidentiality. 

Teachers across the United States estimated that only around 60% of students regularly participated in school remotely by the end of last school year. Greater communication between teachers and families, such as teachers being able to call home and ask about a student’s access to a computer or internet, is necessary to ensure all students have access to the tools they need to learn. 

Teachers use Lionbridge to:

  • Call home to speak to a family member if a student isn’t attending a virtual class
  • Conduct parent-teacher conferences if a language barrier exists between the teacher and a student’s family
  • Complete Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) with a student’s family if a student needs an accommodation

“Most school districts serve families that speak many languages at home," Gryder said.  "No matter what the language is, the right vendor will ensure a high-quality experience for the parents and for the teachers." 


How Can Lionbridge Help Teachers to Communicate Effectively with Families?

Over-the-phone interpretation has been a part of Lionbridge for over 20 years. Our qualified interpreters are well-versed in communicating in an educational setting, such as parent-teacher conferences or IEP meetings. To use our telephone interpretation service, simply call a dedicated hotline and get connected to an experienced interpreter in seconds. 

Lionbridge has existing state contracts for telephone interpreting in the following states, as well as with individual public-school systems: 

  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • North Carolina
  • Texas
  • Boston Public Schools
  • Georgia
  • Virginia
  • Oklahoma
  • Providence Public Schools
  • Massachusetts

Fast, Reliable Over-the-Phone Interpretation Services 

Lionbridge’s rapid connection times and breadth of languages make us a key partner in communicating quickly. Our interpreters are trained in over 350 languages. 

Before the pandemic, many school districts relied on trained staff to translate. However, this practice only works if a school has a staff member on hand who speaks a student’s native language, which may be difficult in a small school district or if the student’s native language is uncommon in that area. 

“With on-site interpreters, you’re typically limited to whatever group of languages that have an interpreter available in your area,” said John Drugan, Government Sales Director for Lionbridge. “If you’re a school district, you don’t need to look in your neighborhood or area to see if this language is available. Lionbridge has 350 languages available within seconds.” 

“An interpreter is not just a bilingual person,” Gryder said. “If you have a reputable provider of telephone interpretation, they will have trained and tested and screened that interpreter to make sure that they’re qualified.” 

Lionbridge’s over-the-phone interpretation services make compliance easy and cost-effective—you only pay for the minutes you use. 


Learn More About Over-the-Phone Interpretation 

Visit our dedicated resource page for over-the-phone interpretation services, or get in touch to learn how you can use Lionbridge’s services in your school district. 

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