Access to languages ​​opens up a world of new opportunities

This story is part of our June 2022 print issue. To subscribe, click here.

Many of us remember the 2002 article in the locally famous Time magazine which named Sacramento the most diverse city in the United States. Leveraging this rich linguistic and cultural diversity should be a key part of any local business’ overall strategy to leverage new sales and provide follow-up support for those sales. Understanding and leveraging this diversity also plays a key role in recruiting and retaining employees.

According to the 2020 US Census Bureau, nearly 33% of households in Sacramento County speak a language other than English at home. Of the people in these households, 13% do not speak English very well. Looking more broadly at statewide demographics, nearly 8 million Californians (19%) report speaking English “less than very well”.

Skipped Opportunities

The large number of people with limited English proficiency living here represents a great opportunity to open up your products and services to a new group of consumers that you may have overlooked due to language barriers. Emails, websites, printed materials, social media and videos can all be translated and localized to match the culture, history, tastes and customs of potential consumers who are ready to buy and prefer to receive information in their own language.

Show respect, build trust

Many companies struggle to find qualified employees and retain the high-value staff they already have. Employees with limited English proficiency represent a growing percentage of human resources in industries such as hospitality, manufacturing, restaurants, construction, transportation, agriculture, and many more. Imagine the advantage you would have over competitors who wouldn’t have thought of writing their online job posting in Punjabi or Simplified Chinese. Imagine if your employee handbook could be emailed to a new hire in perfect Ukrainian, or if your mandatory Cal/OSHA training was delivered as a video in Spanish sent to your employee’s phone.

Employees will feel respected and valued when they receive important company information in the language of their choice. Language access is not just a trust-building tool; it is also mandated by state and federal laws, such as Title VI of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Dymally–Alatorre Bilingual Services Act.

Faulty translation methods and their risks

Typically, a business owner reacts to language barriers the same way they would on vacation in a foreign country. What’s the fastest and easiest way to get my message across? One way is to find someone nearby who you think speaks the language. Another is to use machine translation such as Google Translate to get by in a verbal exchange. Both methods may produce inaccurate results.

Using someone in the workplace who speaks another language may seem like the quick and easy answer to interpretation or translation. However, it can make things worse. It is important to consider that your bilingual colleague may be familiar but not comfortable with the foreign language. Many native speakers (those who grew up in monolingual non-English speaking households) acquired their second language skills at an early age but never received formal education or certified testing in the language. Also, if you rely on bilingual employees for this service, do they receive additional compensation? Do they get extra time and accommodations to complete their routine duties if they are taken to provide language access services?

Apps and websites seem to be the second best option for translation. But while voice translation apps have gotten better over the years, they’re prone to making some weird mistakes, which could be embarrassing at the best of times and downright dangerous at the worst.

Health care institutions have long known this because lives can be at stake over the turn of a phrase or an incomplete or inaccurate medical instruction. Patient safety is central to the mission of healthcare, and without access to a professional language, vital and technically complex treatment plans cannot be meaningfully understood.

How to Increase Language Access for Employees and Customers

There are several approaches you can take to improve language access for both your customer base and your diverse workforce. For employers with staff who speak limited English, you can offer bespoke English lessons that focus on vocabulary and phrases relevant to what needs to be communicated in the workplace. For industries such as healthcare that could benefit from full-time staff, hiring an on-site interpreter might be the best bet. Interpreting agencies also offer expert language support services which can be provided in person, over the phone or via any device in the form of remote video interpreting.

“While it may be easier to think of the world as English-only, there are many relationships (and outcomes) that can be remarkably improved through increased language access.”

William Glasser, president and founder of Language World, Inc.

While it’s easier to think of the world as English-only, there are many relationships (and outcomes) that can be remarkably improved through increased language access. Investing in language access can help your business connect with California’s increasingly English-limited consumers and employees.

William Glasser is President and Founder of Language World, a provider of interpreting and translation solutions. He has over 20 years of experience in the language industry. Learn more at

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