Four Tips for Multilingual Community Engagement

Nearly 22% of U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home. In the country’s five largest cities, nearly half speak another language at home, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.)

Traditional community outreach leaves community members, who often benefit the most from development, underrepresented, simply because they are not comfortable communicating in English.

At coUrbanize, we know that successful, inclusive engagement means that all voices are heard. This requires meeting people where they’re at - which includes communicating with them in their native language.

When working in diverse communities, multilingual outreach is essential to reach often marginalized populations, gather more representative feedback and ultimately build a better project. Thoughtful, multilingual outreach is a big part of this equation.

1. Understand the Community Where You're Building

Know the demographics of the neighborhood in which you want to build. A little research will let you know what languages you should include in your outreach strategy. In addition to publicly available data, community groups can offer additional insight into a given community’s language needs.

2. Know that Multilingual = Multicultural

In any community engagement strategy, messaging is always important. If you’re working in a multilingual community, you’re likely working in a multicultural one as well. Be thoughtful with your messaging. Direct translations aren’t always the best method. How can you share your message in a way that will resonate with subsets of your audience?

Tip! The best way to get multilingual outreach right? Think about who is on your team. Does anyone speak these languages?
If not, consider how you can get this representation - perhaps by setting up an advisory group, hiring boots-on-the-ground resources from within the community or making multilingual hires a priority (especially if your projects are often within the same market).

3. Create & Share Multilingual Materials

When distributing mailers, SMS signs, or surveys, include translated versions in the languages needed. Use professional translation services - not Google translate - when producing these materials. Multilingual staff can ensure the translations are accurate and culturally appropriate.

4. Communicate in those Represented Languages

Now that you’ve executed a multilingual outreach strategy, expect to receive comments and responses in multiple languages. Have a plan to translate those comments and then respond to and engage with those community members. Don’t let them go unanswered.

Tip! In urban areas, you may find there are 3+ key languages spoken in the community.
On coUrbanize, we often see project sites translated in 5-7 languages. That effort goes a long way in building trust with the community.

Want to bring multilingual outreach online?