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How to Help Students Avoid Heritage Language Loss

For students who have immigrated to the United States or who come from families who do not speak English as the primary language at home, learning to speak English fluently is one of the most important things he or she can do to ensure proper communication and education in the classroom. Over time, as children assimilate more into the English-dominated world, both in the classroom and with their peers, they may begin to lose some of their heritage language due to lack of practice outside the home. This may even result in English becoming the primary language at home, at least among the children in the family, and cause potential communication issues and barriers if students do experience this language loss.


Since strong student-parent communication is vital for a student’s success in school, we’ve compiled a few ways your school can aid LEP (limited English proficient) students and parents when it comes to language loss.

1. Offer bilingual education opportunities where possible/appropriate. If the school system has the ability to offer dual-language courses for these students, it will help encourage the use of their primary language outside of the home. Older students who are able to choose elective type classes may also benefit from a Spanish (or whichever language is dominant in your area) for heritage speakers class, with a focus on preserving the language skills they already have instead of learning a new language from scratch.

2. Work with parents to inform them about the potential of language loss and ways they can encourage the use of the primary language both at home and in the community. Parents may assume that using English in the home will benefit the child by speeding up the process of learning English in general. However, this can increase the language loss of their heritage language, as the child will no longer have an outlet for using this language if it is not spoken on a regular basis at home.

3. Provide information in the parents’ primary language. Research language groups and activities in the community that may afford the child an opportunity to use his/her heritage language outside of school or the home and compile a list of these options on a professionally translated handout.

4. Offer a professional interpreter for parent-teacher conferences so that parents feel comfortable discussing any issues, or celebrating their child’s accomplishments, with you. This also allows students to see their heritage language being used in a setting outside the home, showcasing its importance to the school, as well.

If these students see that your school places a level of importance on their heritage languages, it increases the likelihood that they will want to continue speaking it inside and outside the home. This not only helps aid in student-parent communication, it also shows parents you are invested in not only teaching their child, but in preserving an important part of their culture as well.

How Health Care Professionals Can Better Serve LEP Patients and Families

First impressions are key with all patients. And ensuring adequate language access for your Limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients can make a huge difference for your practice, both in patient safety and satisfaction. Your patients are more likely to receive improved quality in health care with fewer medical errors if they have access to the information they need in the language of their choice. This leads to a higher rate of patient satisfaction, and the individual is more likely to return to your practice/facility, if necessary, as long as they feel confident in the quality of care they received the first time.

Outside of just having access to the translated versions of key documents and medical interpreters for your patients, here are a few ways to better serve your LEP community and patients.


Make sure your LEP community knows language access is available

Many LEP individuals may not even realize that they can receive care in their own language at your practice. This can result in a lack of preventative care, increasing their reliance on emergency room visits when the issues become more serious. This actually increases costs to the health care system, which could be alleviated by helping to inform your local LEP community that they can receive more basic or preventative care, even if they do not speak English. You can work with your Public Relations team to find ways to communicate this information to local groups. Social media channels, television appearances, direct mailers, or newspaper advertisements may be good places to start.

Translate discharge and medication instructions

Part of the reason that LEP patients have a greater chance of admission (or readmission) to the hospital after seeking care is that they do not fully understand their discharge instructions or how to properly take their medications. Having a qualified interpreter present during admission and discharge, as well as having the instructions translated into the patient’s preferred language, can result in a lower chance of patient confusion when they return home, lessening the need for the patient to return to your office or visit the ER later if their condition is not improving. If you are in doubt of the patient’s understanding, you can always use the “teach back” method to have the patient confirm what is expected of them when they leave.

Ensure proper training for your physicians and staff

You do not need a multilingual staff to be able to interact with your LEP patients. If your staff is trained to recognize cultural sensitivities and differences, as well as key indicators that your patients may need a professional medical interpreter, you can better serve your patients well when they come in for their appointments. Some patients will not request an interpreter, either because they do not know they can do so, or because they overestimate their English competency. Having a professional interpreter present or an over-the-phone interpreter available will help eliminate any language-specific issues that may arise during the visit.

If your practice has put anything in place that has helped deliver better care for your LEP patients, we’d love to hear more about it! Please let us know by leaving a comment!

Why do I need to provide language access to patients, clients and customers?

Being able to communicate effectively in the language of your patients, clients, or customers is extremely important for your relationship and essential to your brand's success. If you receive federal funding, providing adequate language access options also protects you from violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. This includes providing language access to individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEPs). Your company's customers will also feel more attracted to your brand if advertising and customer service options are provided in the language in which they are most comfortable.

A hospital, for example, should always have on-site or on-call interpreters available for LEP individuals. This will help eliminate medical emergencies or poor care caused by the individual's inability to communicate effectively with health care providers. It is extremely important that both doctor and patient understand each other completely to avoid these potentially grave errors. The same holds true in legal settings. Miscommunication between parties can be the difference between improper sentencing and an innocent person being set free. Communication in their native language also ensures that each party understands all legal implications associated with an action, protecting everyone involved.

Not only does closing the language barrier protect you from violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it also goes a long way in improving your brand image. If you are able to provide advertisements in the native language of your intended audience, these customers will be more likely to feel appreciated and attracted to your company. If you provide customer service options in other languages (either via a live bilingual operator or telephonic interpretation option), these customers will continue to feel appreciated and are more likely to interact with you if needed. This communication can help ensure their needs are met so they remain loyal customers for you.

If you find that you would like to provide language access for any target demographic, we will be glad to assist with the steps along the way. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or for a free quote.