New service helps bridge language differences

Teacher assists a student with math.

The City School District of Albany is making it easier for English language learners and schools to communicate with each other.

Starting this school year, all schools have access to a telephone interpretation service that can be used to help students and families talk to each other even if they don’t speak each other’s languages. 

The service -- Language Line Solutions –  has interpreters for some 200 languages. It allows schools to connect via phone with an interpreter at any time on any day. 

In the past, the district relied on translators that came to schools and phoned the families of English language learners. Translators read prepared messages or translated with a staff member, and translator visits needed to be scheduled and arranged.

“It’s our goal as a district to make English language learners feel welcome and understood, and we’re always trying to do better,” said Tom Giglio, director the district’s office of English as a new language and refugee services. “Now it’s literally as easy as picking up the phone.”

Here’s how it works: An authorized staff person calls a toll-free phone number and selects a language. The staff person briefs the interpreter on the issue.  If the English language learner is right there, the staff person hands over the phone to him or her and the interpreter explains. The interpreter also can phone English language learners outside the school. 

Besides English, district students speak more than 50 world languages. Arabic and Spanish are the most common languages.