Tips for Navigating the Language Divide

Do’s & Don’ts For Navigating the Language Divide When Working with Multi-Cultural Communities

DO have your materials translated.
DON’T assume that translating that your materials is enough.
DO hire someone who is bilingual.
DON’T assume that having someone who is bilingual on staff is enough.
DO dedicate more staff time to relationship building in the community.
DON’T forget the importance of finding people where they are, and beginning with issues that they care about.
DO shift from find/change to find/energize.
DON’T forget that their are often many roads to the same destination.
DO leverage institutional resources to mitigate language/cultural differences between resident groups and neighborhood institutions.
DON’T forget the value that a prestigious community institution (such as a funder) can bring to building bridges and validating the ideas of new groups.
DO make a commitment to create multi-lingual spaces.
DON’T cut corners when it comes to translators and technology that helps people hear and speak in their own language.

Practical Things You Can Do to Navigate the Language Divide:

      • Make grants for equipment to support interpretation;
      • Seek bi-lingual people to serve on boards and committees;
      • Ask groups that you fund to consider adding bilingual leaders to their board;
      • Add bilingual capacity to your program via contracting for specific tasks with consultants who are bilingual;
      • Consider sending bilingual consultants to training that will help them be more effective in developing leaders and doing outreach;
      • Connect with someone who works with demographic or census data/computer mapping to keep up with demographic changes in your city’s neighborhoods or your grantmaking focus areas;
      • Consider your local university or community college as a potential resource in this area;
      • Express your commitment to this work through your grants;
      • Help others have the resources they need to build their multi-cultural capacity;
      • Make language or cultural sensitivity training available for your staff.

From “Working with Multi-Cultural Communities:  Practical Approaches to Navigating the Language Divide” (Grassroots Grantmakers’ March 2007 topical conference call).


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