ULG's Language Services Blog

5 Steps to Developing a Language Access Plan

Did you know that one in five people in the U.S. speaks a language other than English at home? Imagine them navigating a life where every conversation, every piece of information, feels just out of reach. That’s the daily reality for millions, and for these individuals, language access services like translation and interpretation are a lifeline to essential services. 

Language access plans are crucial across multiple sectors for a variety of compelling reasons. In healthcare, they make sure that all patients receive accurate and effective medical care, regardless of language barriers. Government agencies, tasked with serving the public, need to communicate effectively with every community member to maintain trust and compliance with legal standards. Educational institutions use language access to guarantee that students and parents can fully participate in the educational process, which is vital for student success. Nonprofits, especially those working with diverse populations, rely on clear communication to effectively deliver services and support community engagement. Without a well-thought-out language access plan, organizations risk alienating their audience, falling short of legal obligations, and severely impacting service delivery. 

Ready to help non-native speakers receive the support they need? Here are five practical steps to create a language access plan that connects and serves everyone effectively. 

1. Assess your organization’s needs

The first step to developing a successful language access plan is to assess the linguistic demographics of your community. What is the linguistic makeup of the patients you serve? Do you need to implement translation and interpretation services to better meet the needs of all of your patients? 

Language translation and interpretation rely on expertise and cultural awareness to deliver clear messaging to non-English speaking patients. As you develop a language access plan, ensure that your interpreters are capable of both. 

For example, if you are a hospital who serves a large Haitian population, French translation may suffice, but overlaying Creole helps ensure cultural relevance for patients. 

2. Outline the services you will provide. 

With the languages of your community in hand, it's time to sketch out a plan for providing language access. Here are three important elements to consider: 

  • Scope of services: Are you providing translation and interpretation? Most language access programs include some combination of both.   
  • Service delivery options: Choose between on-demand services for urgent needs and scheduled services for routine requests. A blend of both can maximize efficiency and accessibility. Don’t forget to plan for both translation and interpretation, as both are essential.  
  • Quality assurance: Establish a solid system to guarantee the accuracy and cultural fit of your translations and interpretations. Regular audits and user feedback will help keep your standards high. 

Depending on the type of content, translation can involve machine translation (with human post-editing for accuracy) or be performed entirely by human linguists.  

There are a variety of interpreting options available as well, each with its own use case:  

  • On-site interpreting (OSI): Best for in-person interactions where body language and nonverbal communication are critical.  
  • Over-the-phone interpreting (OPI): Quick and responsive, perfect for solving issues on the spot. 
  • Video remote and remote simultaneous Interpreting (VRI and RSI): Connect with an interpreter over video, ideal for everything from meetings to telehealth.    

Let’s discuss how we can help with your translation and interpretation needs. Contact us today. >> 

3. Promote your multilingual services 

Now that you’ve set up your language services, it’s time to let everyone know they’re available. Crafting a savvy promotion strategy ensures that everyone who needs these services knows how to access them. 

Keep in mind that multilingual speakers are not necessarily literate in every language they speak, so any announcements about translation and interpretation services should span media and format: 

  • Audible announcements: These are great for immediate impact, especially in places where people gather or wait. 
  • Multilingual posters: Visually engaging and informative, these can be placed strategically around your facilities. 
  • ID badges: Equip your staff with badges that detail the languages they speak, making it easy for anyone to seek help directly. 

Make sure to detail which languages are available and when. Information on how to schedule services outside of regular hours should be clear and easy to find. This isn’t just about making services available; it’s about making them accessible. 

We also recommend communicating across your organization about your interpretation and translation services across departments, so that everyone is as knowledgeable about the available language services as the people using those services are. Internal communications should include updates and information about these services to keep your team informed and ready to assist. 

4. Train employees on language access and cultural competency 

Rolling out a language access plan involves more than just setting up services—it requires comprehensive training for your team.  

Begin by educating front-line staff on the language services available and the assistive technologies they’ll use, including support for people with visual and hearing impairments. Extend training to include cultural competency workshops to ensure that everyone knows how to make all multicultural interactions be respectful and effective. 

Keep training relevant with ongoing sessions that are updated when language needs evolve and technology advances. Foster a collaborative learning environment where staff can share insights and further hone their communication strategies. 

By continuously investing in training, your organization equips every team member to deliver high-quality services confidently and competently to a diverse audience. 

5. Evaluate your language access plan  

After rolling out your language access services, it's important to regularly evaluate their effectiveness.  

Here are some recommendations to do this effectively:  

Simulate user experiences: Periodically simulate scenarios to gauge the effectiveness of your team's communication skills across different languages and accessibility needs. This approach helps pinpoint areas for improvement. This could include role play as well as taking advantage of outside reviews like the annual “Secret Shopper” program from the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services.  

Measure performance: Regularly review your staff’s ability to deliver language services effectively. Use this feedback to refine training programs and enhance service delivery. 

Review for compliance: While keeping your focus on service quality, also review the legal guidelines that impact your organization to make sure you’re compliant.  

Check in with your clients. The best feedback comes from the people receiving the services. Find a mechanism like interviews, surveys, or comment cards to collect feedback. 

By actively reviewing and adjusting your language access services, you make sure they are not just compliant, but truly responsive to the needs of everyone you serve.  

Benefits of Language Access Planning 

With your plan in place, you’ll start to see how having a solid language access plan in place provides concrete benefits, both to your organization and the community you serve.  

 Here are some of those benefits:  

  • Effective communication: Clear communication eliminates misunderstandings and builds trust between your organization and the communities you serve. 
  • Improved service outcomes: With effective language services, all individuals receive accurate information and appropriate support, leading to better outcomes in healthcare, education, public services, and customer satisfaction. 
  • Increased engagement: Language access breaks down barriers, encouraging greater participation and engagement from those who might otherwise be marginalized. 
  • Competitive advantage: Organizations that prioritize inclusivity and accessibility are often viewed more favorably, which can enhance reputation and competitive standing in diverse markets. 
  • Compliance with language access legislation: Various regulations require that government bodies, non-profits, and other organizations that receive federal funding provide language access services.  For example, healthcare providers must offer language help to people who don’t speak English fluently to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s Rule 1557. More generally, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires organizations that serve the public to ensure that their services are accessible to everyone, regardless of language needs or disabilities 

How ULG Helps Organizations Serve Multilingual Communities 

Looking for support in launching a comprehensive language access plan? United Language Group (ULG) is here to help. We specialize in providing translation and interpretation services tailored to a wide range of industries—from healthcare to education, government, and beyond. 

We do more than just offer services; we ensure your organization meets all language access needs with our thorough audits. Our team is skilled in over 200 languages and delivers evidence-based solutions that enhance communication across all your departments, improving service delivery and minimizing misunderstandings. 

At ULG, we offer tailored language solutions for every need. From document translation to real-time interpreting, we’re equipped to handle it all. Equipped with these tools, you’re all set to offer top-notch communication services that cater to everyone in your community—efficiently and effectively. 

Ready to get started? Reach out to ULG and see how we can help you connect and communicate with the diverse communities you serve. 

Learn how to stay compliant with the U.S. medical interpretation mandates in this e-book. >>