The Translation Center Continues to Help Public Schools Improve Language Access Services
Workshops through the Translation Center help bolster language access in schools
This winter, more than 100 bilingual public-school employees successfully completed either the Interpreter and Translator in Education Workshop Series or the Interpreting for Special Education Workshops Series, thanks to two sponsors: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and New Bedford Public Schools.
The seven-session, remote Interpreter and Translator in Education Workshop Series, designed and coordinated by the Translation Center team, educates employees from across the commonwealth to serve as interpreters and translators in schools. Through these workshops, participants learn about the standards and procedures of interpreting and translation in addition to the larger context of language access in schools, and how to better advocate for respect and compensation for their invaluable skills.
Workshops are led by UMass faculty and industry professionals, and supported by graduate students.
“It's an educational experience for everyone,” says Regina Galasso, associate professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures and director of the Translation Center. “Our workshop leaders are among the top professionals working in leadership and language access in the country. For our workshop participants, the work of translation and interpretation challenges everything they know about their languages. Not only do their interpretation and translation skills get better, but so do their language skills.”
According to Galasso, translation and interpretation are specialized skillsets. Other fields that regularly provide these types of services, like medicine or law, require translators and interpreters to undergo standardized training, receive certification, and meet standards and guidelines. In contrast, there is no formalized approach to how translation and interpretation services are provided in schools in the United States.
“Many times, schools, with the best intentions, hire bilinguals to provide translation and interpreting services to the families that need them without confirming that these individuals have had any training or professional experience as translators or interpreters,” explains Galasso.
Services can vary widely from state to state and even district to district, which is why a workshop series like this is so important.
“It’s meaningful work,” Galasso says. “This is also a chance for UMass Amherst to be in K-12 public schools throughout our state and support families for whom English is not their first language.”
Participants—most of whom are women, immigrants, people of color, and diverse learners—collectively speak a dozen languages and represent nearly 20 school districts from across Massachusetts. Upon successful completion, each participant receives a certificate and leaves the workshop series better equipped to provide essential services to non-English speaking parents and caregivers in their school districts.
“It was wonderful for me. I learned from all the participants, and I learned ways to give a better service to the community,” says Bayron Mendez, one of the recent participants from the workshop series for New Bedford Public Schools.
He explained that the workshops helped him practice his skills so that when he offers translation or interpreter services, he’ll feel more comfortable and confident. Mendez speaks English, K'iche, and Spanish.
“I learned how to deal with specific situations—what to do and what not to do—and I learned how to stay neutral,” Mendez explains. “I feel more professional, and I know how to talk to other people, what tone of voice I should use, and things like that.”
Mendez was inspired to get involved in the language services field when he immigrated to the U.S. After arriving at the border, Mendez says a police officer gave him bus tickets to New Bedford, Mass., and that was it—but Mendez still had so many questions.
“I thought of my parents and how they may have had to deal with the same situation,” Mendez says. “I thought, okay: I want to help people translate their ideas and to communicate.”
Brockton Public School’s Morton Pierre-Antoine, a speaker of English, French, and Haitian Creole, participated in the workshop series and explained that these skills will help not just his district meet its goals, but help parents and guardians feel more empowered to communicate with schools and to participate in what their kids are doing.
“Having [employees like] us trained—and having a better sense of what our role is—helps everyone succeed,” he explains. “It benefits all the kids and all the students who feel so lost in the system because they’ve just come to the country without knowing any English, and have parents who maybe don’t know what to do. Even if families have the desire to help, they may not know how. But now they have us.”
To learn more about the ongoing Translation Center workshops, visit https://www.umass.edu/translation/interpreter-and-translator-education-workshops.