Parent Communications and Translations: Machine vs. Human Translation – What’s the Difference?


Proactive schools and school districts are finding and using all means available to communicate with parents, including English learner (EL) students and parents with limited English proficiency (LEP). In an article from District Administration titled “Tech: A language translator allows districts to reach out to ELLs”, a number of creative and innovative solutions are discussed. This includes the use of machine translation (computer-assisted translation) tools, such as Google Translate.

Machine translations for things like lunch menus and certain parts of school or district websites (like navigation tools) can provide a level of accessibility that would otherwise be unavailable for EL students and LEP parents. However, it should be noted that machine translations are well known for having accuracy issues, including significant errors.

One viewing of one of the Tonight Show’s “Google Translate Songs” and you can see that important communications need more careful translations than are available via machine translation. In fact, some communications, especially those required by education laws like the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), are subject to Civil Rights requirements including the need for translators or interpreters to have at least a certain level of training or certification, as well as familiarity with education terminology in both languages (English and the target language for translation/interpretation).

Finding trained translators or interpreters can sometimes be difficult, especially in school districts with a large number of languages spoken by students and parents. TransACT provides written parent notifications in multiple languages and only uses translators with the appropriate training or certification that have an understanding of education terminology. In addition, TransACT’s partner organization Language Line provides over the phone oral interpretation in over 170 languages.

For more information about TransACT’s Parent Notices and accompanying translations, or to find out more information about oral interpretation from Language Line, please contact us at 425.977.2100, Option 3 or email at

Dr. David Holbrook

About The Author

Dr. David Holbrook is a nationally recognized leader in federal programs administration and monitoring with expertise in Title I, Title III, Native American Education, and Federal Programs. Dr. Holbrook has also worked as a consultant with Title III of the US Department of Education and now serves as Executive Director, Federal Compliance and State Relationships with TransAct.