ULG's Language Services Blog

How Technology Can Enhance Language Access

The need for clear, instant communication across languages is exploding in healthcare, education, courtrooms, and more. Compliance with relevant regulations is a key driver of this demand, but it's not the only driver. Language access is essential to share knowledge and provide equitable services for patients, students, social services clients, and employees on global teams. 

Technology is transforming the daunting task of bridging language gaps into a smooth, almost magical process. Imagine getting an interpreter on your screen in seconds or being able to request professional, quality translations with the click of a button. This is where we're heading thanks to innovations like video interpreting, more intelligent and efficient call center flows, and smart, user-friendly translation management platforms. 

Let’s explore the latest in cutting-edge language access technology and how it’s making it easier than ever to build connections across language barriers.  

Embracing Technology in Language Access 

When it comes to language access, technology is a game-changer in providing translation and interpretation services. With every innovation, we're making strides toward a world where language barriers no longer stand in the way of comprehension and connection. Let's break down the tools that are making this possible. 

Computers/Web Meeting Platforms: The New Frontiers of Interpretation 

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI): VRI brings a professional interpreter into the conversation through familiar apps like Zoom or Teams, or through a dedicated video remote interpretation platform. As a result, all parties in the conversation benefit from the ability to see nonverbal communication cues and body language.  

VRI is becoming increasingly prevalent in healthcare. The concept of telehealth goes back to the 1960s. Telehealth visits started to surge in popularity in 2015. Demand for telehealth and virtual appointments spiked further during 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and its popularity has remained high, resulting in greater demand for and comfort with VRI.  

In one example, ULG helped one municipality use VRI to connect with diverse constituents in need of services when in-person appointments were not possible. It’s also the interpreting mode of choice for a major healthcare consortium to provide language access at their urgent care centers.  

Remote Simultaneous Interpretation (RSI): RSI connects people miles apart in real-time, using video interpreting to help people in a variety of situations, from consultations to conferences. The interpreter translates the conversation as it happens, and the parties involved listen to what’s being said in their own language through headphones. 

For example, a children’s hospital used RSI to handle sensitive consultations with the parents of sick children during a clinical trial, making it easier than ever to connect with patients all around to work toward better treatments for rare disorders.  

Smart Connectors: These clever bits of tech take the waiting out of finding the right interpreter. By looking at customer (or patient) records and data, they instantly match you with an interpreter who speaks your language, making connections faster. For example, EMR (electronic medical record) integrations can offer interpreter access for providers at the touch of a button. Case in point: ULG’s Epic® Integration, which gives care teams one-click access to a voice connection with a qualified interpreter in the patient’s preferred language via a button embedded in the patient’s Epic record. 

Language Access Lines and Phone Systems: Tailoring Calls to Every Caller 

While VRI and RSI are good options when virtual face-to-face communication is essential, over-the-phone interpretation and call centers are here to stay and technology is making them better.  

Smart in-language IVR (Interactive Voice Response) call flows: Smart IVR systems combine Neural Language Processing (NLP) and Natural Language Generation (NLG) to guide callers with prompts and responses in their native language, making every step clearer and more comfortable. With multilingual Smart IVRs, there’s no longer a need to “Press 1 to speak to the billing office” in any language.  

Smart analytics: With AI-powered smart analytics, it’s possible to analyze call data to uncover common issues and questions across different groups of callers so that recurring issues can be addressed proactively.   

Skills-based routing: This feature makes sure callers get connected with an interpreter who has the right skills to help with their query (such as a specialization in medical or legal terminology), without the disruption of a transfer. Thanks to our state-of-the-art call center technology, we’re able to offer both skills-based routing and smart analytics.   

Direct Connect & Community Connect: ULG uses two innovative solutions to make it easier to connect callers with in-language support. Direct Connect callback numbers make it possible for consumers to return calls and get instantly connected to an interpreter who speaks their language and stays on the line from start to finish. No more struggling with phone menus in English! Community Connect teams up one interpreter with an outbound call center agent, dedicating up to an hour to help callers in the same language, slashing wait times and boosting efficiency. 

Mobile Apps & Machine Translation (MT): A Mixed Bag of Tricks 

Mobile apps and publicly available MT offer instant translations for simple, low-stakes conversations. They can come handy in a pinch, but they’re not always the precision tool you need. 

While tempting for their speed and accessibility, these technologies come with huge caveats. Accuracy can vary, and without the nuances of culture and context, you (or the person you’re speaking to) might not get the whole picture. There are also security concerns, and businesses need to carefully consider the potential liability for data breaches and translation errors. For anything serious or sensitive, machine translation should be incorporated into a broader language strategy with quality controls in place. 

They are great to use when you are shopping, ordering a meal, and getting directions for instance.   

MT does make it possible to translate documents quickly and at scale, but to avoid the risks mentioned above, it needs to be integrated into a professional translation workflow with a strong quality control process.  

AI-Enhanced Language Identification  

This technology uses clues like last names and zip codes to help organizations better understand the community they serve. Here, AI fills in gaps in language data. By tapping into census data from specific zip codes, AI can predict language preferences with 85% accuracy based on last name. With this data, organizations can better prepare to handle interpretation and language access requests.  

AI Text-to-Speech: Instant Audio Access  

AI text-to-speech is revolutionizing language access by giving a voice to written words. It's an invaluable tool for reading aloud translated documents or making content accessible to those who prefer listening over reading or for anyone who cannot read for various reasons. 

Simplifying Document Translation with Translation Management Systems (TMS) and Integrations 

Translation Management Systems make it easier for organizations to manage every step of the translation process, from requesting translation to quality assurance, usually incorporating machine translation and translation memories (TMs) for greater efficiency.  

With a TMS like ULG's Octave, navigating document translations becomes straightforward and hassle-free. It's like having a fast-forward button for your translation needs, allowing quick requests for professional-quality translations. Plus, with the ability to integrate seamlessly into your existing tech stack, like Veeva Vault, Octave ensures translations fit smoothly into your workflows. 

Case Study: Tech-Enhanced Language Access for Community Engagement  

What’s exciting about these technological advances is not so much the bells and whistles, it’s how tech makes it easier to connect people with the assistance, information, and care they need, no matter what language they speak.   

Consider United Language Group’s Community Navigators program, which helps people with language needs access health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplace. Last year, we achieved a 2214% increase in Medicaid enrollments (from 27 new enrollees to 625) with our community outreach efforts.  

This human-centered outreach was supported by technology at every step:  

  • Zoom calls for follow up to help our bilingual navigators connect with community members after events to verify information and start the enrollment process. By conducting these calls over Zoom, community members are able to engage face-to-face with navigators who they have met previously and built rapport with, deepening trust and connection. 
  • Call-backs from community members to get more information and complete enrollment, supported by our next-generation call center technologies for smooth, efficient communication tailored to each caller's language preferences. 

This is just one example of how new technologies for language access are already having a positive real-world impact, in this case by helping more people get access to life-saving healthcare.  

Language Technology Usage at United Language Group?  

Our team is committed to using the latest technology to improve language access for our clients and the communities they serve. We integrate AI translation and machine translation into a carefully designed workflow that prioritizes quality and security while still offering efficiency. Our secure translation management system, Octave, makes it easy to manage translation projects.  

We’re constantly improving our interpretation technology and we use AI-powered call center software for more precise staffing, more efficient call routing, and smart analytics. We also use Direct Connect and Community Connect workflows to provide a better user experience for customers with language access needs.  

Navigating the Future of Language Access 

Technology has the potential to connect us across languages and cultures, turning potential barriers into opportunities for clearer, more meaningful interactions.  Ready to navigate this landscape with confidence? Our comprehensive Language Access Roadmap today is your guide to integrating these technologies across every touchpoint so that everyone has access to the information they need and deserve, no matter what language they speak.  

Download your copy today!