How to Serve Multilingual Families

It’s important to communicate with prospective families in their preferred language. The DOE’s Translation & Interpretation (T&I) Unit can help schools communicate in ten languages—English, Arabic, Bangla/Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu. The following best practices will advance equity by helping families better understand the information your school provides. 

Translations Request Checklist

  • Plan ahead—consider when and how you’ll want to share information with families. Will it be by email, on your website, backpacked home with students, or displayed/distributed at an event?
  • Fill out the School Translation Request form.
  • Put the text you want translated on your school’s letterhead (your school logo will ideally be in the header).
  • Send the form and your document as attachments to Translations@schools.nyc.gov. Send your request at least 2–3 weeks before you’ll need any translated materials!

Translations for a Specific Parent, Student, or Teacher: Use your School Allocation Memorandum funds to request translations for an individual parent, student, or teacher. In these cases, your school will work with the DOE’s contracted translations vendor, not with T&I.

Best Practices for Translations

Use plain language.

  • Half of all Americans read English at or below an eighth-grade level (Readable, Wylie). To be sure all families understand your school’s communications, write all materials at a sixth-grade reading level. In part, this means choosing clear, simple words and avoiding long sentences and paragraphs.
  • Avoid jargon and figurative language, which often lose their meaning when translated.
  • Avoid culturally specific examples and references.
  • Use bullet points and headers to organize your text and break up blocks of information.

Keep your designs and formatting simple. 

  • Keep some white space in your designs. Some languages, such as Chinese, use less space than English. Other languages, such as Spanish, need more space. Translators need flexibility to fit translated text on the page as intended.
  • Avoid using complex formatting, which might cause unintended changes to your design when translated. Follow these best practices:
    • Use tables or columns instead of text boxes.
    • Use the tab key, not the space bar, to indent text.
    • Use images, borders, and colors sparingly so they don’t distract from your message.
    • Avoid word art. Text may translate into a word or passage of quite different length/size.
    • Make sure your design works in both right-to-left or left-to-right alignment. Two DOE languages, Arabic and Urdu, read from right to left.

Consider how you'll communicate with and respond to families.

  • Plan to provide interpretation services at events so families can understand presentations and ask questions.
  • Does your school have the resources to read responses in languages other than English? If not, request feedback and input from families through multiple-choice responses so you will be able to understand their responses.
  • Consider including a sentence in all ten DOE languages about translations or language services at the bottom of every email or document you send to families. Examples:
    • Request a translated version of this document by emailing [email address].
    • Translated versions of this document are available at [URL].
    • To request interpretation services in your language, call [phone number].
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