When community members who do not speak English can use their native language to express their concerns and ideas, their voices can be powerful levers of change. But first, their message must be translated accurately in settings that are inclusive by design.
“Translation of materials and meetings is important, but that alone does not change the power structure,” says Alena Marie who leads the Language Justice Initiative at Just Communities. “We want everyone to not just receive information in their language, but to be active participants.”
“We want everyone to not just receive information in their language, but to be active participants.”
Yet, many venues where key decisions are made lack translation. Alena recalls meetings where people from the audience are called upon to translate for those testifying in Spanish. At other times, bilingual elected officials try to translate for their colleagues. These impromptu efforts shortchange the dialogue. “We can’t have true impact if it’s just a one-way flow of information,” Alena says.
“We can’t have true impact if it’s just a one-way flow of information,” Alena says.
So, what’s required to create language equity? Agencies should hire professional interpreters and provide headsets to all who are not fluent in the languages being used.
Just Communities trains interpreters on creating inclusive multilingual spaces. In 2013, they trained 240 student interpreters to translate between teachers and parents at Back to School Nights. They also advocate for more professional translators at schools and agencies. Just Communities practices what it preaches with simultaneous interpretation at its events and a bilingual website. They are leading the way to ensure that all voices are included in the process of community change.