The U.S. population is becoming increasingly diverse. According to the Collage Group, between 2013 and 2019, the U.S. multicultural population accounts for more than 100% of the country’s growth and multicultural consumers now represent 42% of the U.S. population.
While it’s difficult to know exactly how many cultures exist in the U.S. because of the various definitions of culture, one route to take is to account for the number of languages spoken. Culture is often marked by languages and even by dialects within the same language.
There are between 350 and 430 languages spoken in the United States, making it one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world.
The majority of U.S. immigrants come from Mexico, China, India, the Philippines, and El Salvador, and the U.S. refugee population comes from places like the Congo, Somalia, Iraq, Burma, Syria, Ukraine, Eritrea, and Afghanistan. The numbers speak for themselves:
- 65 million people speak a language other than English in the U.S.
- 1 in 5 North Americans speaks a language other than English at home.
Many multicultural community members are in the process of learning English, and so can’t take full advantage of or benefit from core services and experiences. This is a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) problem.
Supporting DEI through language access
DEI, at its core, is about supporting inclusion and belonging, fostering access to services, and celebrating differences. It is an initiative in which places like schools, businesses, and government organizations create programs to include, consider, and provide services for people who have been historically underrepresented or disadvantaged.
Organizations benefit from cultural diversity through increased productivity, creativity, innovation, compassion, and local market knowledge. It is well known that diverse teams and groups are collectively smarter and more innovative. Including diverse, multicultural candidates in hiring and retention practices has tangible results: when people work within nonhomogeneous teams, they actually think differently, which challenges the brain and fine-tunes its performance.
Individuals benefit by being able to access critical services like healthcare, education, and government services so they can thrive and live their best lives. They also benefit from community and connection. The availability of resources in one’s own language through translation and interpretation drives DEI progress.
The availability of translated material or interpretation services is starting to be legislated. A language access bill was recently passed in the New Jersey State Senate. If it becomes law, Senate Bill 2459 (SB 2459) would require state government agencies to provide translations in the fifteen most widely spoken languages among the state’s population of people with limited English proficiency.
Those who come from multi-cultural, multi-lingual backgrounds must have access to information in their own language, so they can effectively work, learn, shop, bank, get access to healthcare, purchase goods and services, and more. Without appropriate language access, they are not fully able to take advantage of the opportunities available to them.
How translation and interpretation support DEI
Providing information and services in someone’s native language is one of the most impactful ways to drive diversity, equity, and inclusion. This level of language access is provided and supported through translation and interpretation services.
Translating critical resources or providing interpretation at important touchpoints supports equitable access to information, resources, and opportunities for everyone to achieve success.
When translated content is provided, or when an interpreter is available to help with understanding, it allows for wider and more inclusive representation and participation. People who speak languages other than English are now fully able to participate in that organization, increasing the number of underrepresented people in that group, and strengthening the team.
Some benefits of translation and interpretation include:
- Teachers, counselors, students, and parents can engage interpreters to have more effective meetings at school to resolve problems, and help kids feel safe, comfortable, and more able to reach their potential.
- Students have access to learning materials and tests in their language so they can perform on equal footing as their peers.
- Professionals speaking another language can access materials to get job training or earn certifications in the U.S.
- Immigrants can access driving tests in their language so they can get driver’s licenses.
- Non-native speakers can read online materials to access services, get a phone plan, apply for a loan or bank account, or sign up for a class.
- Individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) can access life-saving information such as medical instructions or treatment plans or talk with a doctor via an interpreter, ensuring health equity.
- Multi-cultural, multi-lingual voters can participate actively in their communities by gaining access to voter information, participating in events in town halls, and other connection points.
Creating inclusive content and accommodating people who have historically been excluded so that they feel welcome, comfortable, and respected benefits not only the individuals but organizations and communities as well.
How to get started
Successful DEI practices require an understanding of cultural nuances and differences and defined actions that embrace varied perspectives and styles. Now that you understand how language services such as translation and interpretation can support your team’s DEI initiatives, there are three next steps you can take to connect and empower:
- Learn about your consumers' cultural differences and how they impact the work done in your organization.
- Decide what needs to be translated within your school or organization to help emerging cultures be included such as handbooks, policies, communications, assignments, and applications.
- Understand what situations would benefit from an interpreter – including any appointment with a health, school, court, or financial practitioner.
How United Language Group can help
Have you considered using translation or interpretations within your organization to foster diversity, enable equity, and promote inclusion? Our experts can help you understand how your organization can help serve diverse populations with a language access roadmap and provide you with an assessment of when and how you can use translation or interpretation to further your DEI goals. We also have programs that connect and engage directly with customers through community outreach using the cultural drivers of engagement.
Connect with us here for an initial discussion.