Communication Risks and Online Translation Tools

How to avoid translation inaccuracies when using online translation tools

Most educators understand the importance of communicating with families in multiple languages. However, not everyone realizes the risk and the danger of using online translation tools. The use of online translation tools confuses families and sometimes provides incorrect information.

There is a difference between interpreting and translating. Interpreting refers to oral language while translating refers to written language. Interpreters use oral language to communicate information. While translators provide families written information in other languages.

In general, most schools do not offer translation services on a regular basis. Some argue that the translation of documents is too expensive. As a result, educators feel the urgency to use online tools to translate written information into other languages.

There is a major concern about using online translation tools.

Why translate?

The translation of documents is important to facilitate written communication and inform families. For example, the translation of a field trip form helps a teacher obtain a quicker response from a non-English speaking parent. A translated field trip form allows families to understand and complete the field trip information.

In this example, the translation of the field trip form allows the parent to complete the form providing the necessary information to the school. The benefits of translating vary depending on the purpose of communication. The goal of translating is to communicate with families.

Civil rights requirements

The Office of Civil Rights requires interpreting and translation services for limited English proficient families. The Office of Civil Rights states that schools must communicate information about any program, service, or activity to limited English proficient parents in a language they can understand. Schools must also provide language assistance even if the child is proficient in English.

Online tools and translation concern

Online translation tools can help translate into many languages. However, these tools sometimes make significant translation errors. For this reason, we should be extra careful when using online translation tools.

We must take translation errors very seriously. There are several concerns about using online translation tools. Translation inaccuracies can cause confusion and sometimes be offensive to families. These types of inaccuracies can provide or obtain incorrect information from families.

A perfect example of this concern is a translated survey that was recently used in a local school. Image 1 below shows the first question of the English survey. The question asks how many students would be enrolled in the school this school year.

danger of using translation tools

On the contrary, the Spanish translation below asks: how many students will you enroll in the school during the 2020-21 school year?

danger of using translation tools

The above example shows that when a translation is done using an online tool the result of the translation is not always accurate. In this case, the Spanish-speaking parent was unable to continue the survey because the translation asked a different question.

Having kids enrolled is not the same as enrolling kids in school. Once the parent answered “ninguno” or none in Spanish, the survey stopped assuming the parent had no children enrolled in the school.

How to Avoid inaccuracies using translation tools

To avoid translation tools inaccuracies schools must consider various things. First, educators should not use online translation tools to conduct official document translations. For instance, a short paragraph may be ok to translate for a family to communicate immediate information.

Secondly, when using a translation to translate large documents a person must make sure to re-read and review the document for inaccuracies. One should also review the translation for readability. In addition, check to ensure the translation flows and makes sense.

If you are not able to read the target language consider noting that a translation tool was used. This will inform the family about the use of the translation tool and the possible inaccuracies.

At last, consider using an over-the-phone interpreting company to communicate the written information to the family. Using an over-the-phone interpreter discuss the information on the form or document. This will allow the interpreter to explain the information in the parent’s language.

The school and family relationship depends on how well educators build relationships with families. The danger of using online translation tools is a legitimate concern. We must be cautious about using online translation tools to prevent communicating wrong information to families.

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