Phone Interpretation
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Phone Interpretation
A Practical Solution to Language Barriers

How does phone interpretation work?
Your school or district can establish an account with a phone interpretation service. Your school or district is only billed for the services you use, and there is no monthly fee.

Washington’s Department of General Administration has negotiated a contract for telephone-based interpretation services. Any school or district that is part of the Washington State Purchasing Cooperative can arrange to use this service, providing access to interpreters in more than 170 different languages for between $0.82 and $0.98 per minute. Once a district or school has established an account with a phone-interpretation service, users can access phone interpreters twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year. No prior appointment is needed. The phone interpretation service can even listen and identify the language that the parent is speaking.

With a phone interpretation service, staff members can directly call families who do not speak English with an interpreter on the phone. This service can also be used to conduct in-person conferences with parents at the school site and the interpreter on speaker phone.

Why is interpretation important?
Communication between parents and school staff is essential, both to the academic success of the student and to the everyday business of enrollment, scheduling, conferences and attendance. Interpretation is especially important in high-stakes situations, such as discipline, truancy and individualized education program (IEP) meetings. Availability of on-demand interpretation is vital in an emergency situation.

It can be cost-prohibitive to pay for written translations into languages that represent a small percentage of the student population, and written translations do not reach parents who are unable to read their native language.

How can I work effectively with a phone interpreter?

  • Listen carefully both for what is being said and what is not being said. Always check for understanding.
  • Before beginning the interpretation process, brief the interpreter about the nature of your call.
  • Speak directly with the parent and let the interpreter serve as your voice (e.g. don’t speak to the interpreter about the parent, just speak to the parent).
  • Speak in your natural voice, not more slowly or loudly than usual.
  • Pause after each thought so that the interpreter can interpret one complete thought at a time. Coach the parent to do the same.
  • Check for the parent’s understanding as you go along.
  • Avoid using technical terms that require a lot of explanation.
  • Expect the conversation to go on twice as long as it would without interpretation.
  • Initiate the closing of the call, and thank the interpreter for their efforts once completed.
  • If a particular interpreter worked especially well with you and the parent, ask for their ID number so that you can request to work with them on future calls.

Sign up for services with one of the vendors under the state contract

CTS LanguageLink

Language Line

Pacific Interpreters

CTS LanguageLink - $0.82/Minute

Set up an account online at:
Contact Customer Service with questions at 360- 433-0437.

Starter kits will be provided when you create an account:

  • Point to Your Language posters
  • Point to Your Language postcards
  • Phone stickers with toll-free number
  • How to Request Telephonic Interpretation Services flyer

Language Line - $0.98/Minute

Send the following forms to Debbie Corona,

Contact Manny Solis at 1-800-221-4207 with questions.

Language Line provides free training tools and in-language signage letting parents in your district know you speak their language.

Pacific Interpreters - $0.86/Minute

Send the following form to Matthew Riley,

Contact Matthew Riley at 503-445-5642 with questions.

For convenient billing, districts can sign up for phone interpretation services and ask for separate access codes for each department or school. This way, the district will receive one bill but can easily assign charges as appropriate.


Sign up for services with one of the vendors under the state contract

Tips for quality written translations

Build a pool of interpreters in your district: Learn what Puget Sound ESD has done and how they can help you.

Find translated materials for parents

Education terms translated: Russian, Somali, Spanish & Vietnamese translations for common education terms

Download an informational handout about phone interpretation.

Teaming with an Interpreter - an online training

Does your district ever need an automated message in multiple languages?
For example, when schools are closed due to inclement weather? Draft a message and call a phone-based interpreter. Record the interpreter(s) saying the message in the language(s) you need.

Old Capitol Building, PO Box 47200, 600 Washington St. S.E., Olympia, WA  98504-7200  (360) 725-6000  TTY (360) 664-3631
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