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NEA Toolkit

Equity Through Language Access: Best Practices for Collaborating with Interpreters

Learn how teachers, administrators, bilingual staff, and families can collaborate with interpreters in order to ensure students have equitable access to their education.
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Published: August 5, 2021
This resource originally appeared on

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." — Nelson Mandela

For an immigrant or refugee parent, navigating the complexities of an unfamiliar school system can be challenging, even in normal times. Immigrant and refugee parents are not typically familiar with how we "do school" in the U.S. unless it is explained. After all, everything from academics to the role of parents in their children's education is different!

When we add on the virtual or hybrid "layer" to this level of unfamiliarity, it is even more necessary that we commit to ensuring equitable family engagement. The number one component for ensuring equitable engagement with immigrant and refugee families is language access.

To help schools expand their own language access, we would like to offer the following tips for teachers, administrators, bilingual staff, and parents on how to collaborate with interpreters. Interpreters' roles and responsibilities are often little understood by their colleagues, so the stronger this collaboration is, the more effective family communication and partnerships will be — and ultimately schools can ensure that families have a cultural and linguistic bridge to equitably engage in their children's education.

Vignette: Language access during COVID-19

When COVID-19 began, an Afghan refugee father of two elementary-aged children attempted to get information from his children's school about distance learning. The school provided most everything in English and Spanish, but he spoke Pashto and very limited English. He appreciated when his children's teachers called, but he didn't understand anything they were saying. Therefore, he was at a loss for how to best support his children's learning while they were home.


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