Tips for Successful Multilingual Community Outreach

Around 2.5 million Bay Area residents of the 5.9 million who live here speak a language other than English at home. We know that to gather representative community feedback and make public agencies work for all of us, we need to meet people where they are - and that means communicating with people in their preferred language, whether online or in person.

Our expert team of multilingual outreach ambassadors can translate information and engage the public in longer dialogues about our clients’ important work. The following tips come from the experience we have gathered over the years, but they are by no means all encompassing. We’re always looking for new ways to better serve our communities!

Know your neighborhood.

Thinking of gathering feedback in the Sunset District but not sure where to start? In San Francisco, you can use the city’s neighborhood profile tools to help you determine language needs. Cities across the Bay Area have similar tools. Beyond the data, we often reach out to our network of community based organizations and ask for their opinion on language needs and outreach tactics.

Create multi-lingual materials.

Best practices suggest that translations should be side-by-side with the original English text. It makes it much, much easier for people to read and understand. In our work to support public agencies with their Language Assistance Plans, the number one request across languages and communities is side-by-side translations. This means there may be less room for content on a piece of collateral, but it shows your commitment to meeting community needs.

Pro tip: developing one piece with every language, instead different versions for each language can also help reduce printing costs and make handing out materials easier.

Use professional translators.

We can’t stress this enough. Having a team to think through the meaning and context of a translation is critical to establishing consistency and understandability in your materials. Once content is translated, triple check it – we recommend running your final draft by bilingual staffers, every time.

Think through the follow up.

So you started your in-language outreach and asked people to submit their comments on a survey? Be prepared to receive responses in-language and have a game plan ready to translate back to English. Postering in the Excelsior for an upcoming community meeting? Prepare talking points for your outreach staff in case residents have questions – and think ahead to taking down those posters while you are at it.

Build a strong in-language outreach team

We love our outreach ambassadors! We hireexceptional staffers who are native speakers and help train them for everyproject. Our small team is made up of part time employees so that we get toknow everyone individually. Know someone who would be a great fit? Email and find out more!