Language Access

Language Access and Bilingualism

English Language Learners

Students who are learning English are often called English Language Learners (ELLs) or English Learners (ELs). School Districts are required to make sure that their English Learner students can participate in meaningful ways in the school and its programs. 

Schools need to:

  • Identify English Learners: At the beginning of each school year, and when new families move into the school, school districts ask about home languages in order to try to identify students who might need English language instruction and supports.
  • Assess English Learners: If a student is still learning English and might need help with English, school districts will do a test, or “assessment”, as soon as possible, to determine how much English the student knows and where the student needs help. Students are tested every year to help the school decide if they are still eligible for English Learner instructional supports. To understand what the language proficiency test results mean and what the levels are, look at  OSPI's Migrant/Bilingual website, here: (available in Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Marshalese, Punjabi, Sgaw-Karen, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, Ukranian, and Vietnamese).
  • Provide Language Supports: In Washington State, school districts must  provide “transitional bilingual instructional programs” (unless it is not practical) that include teaching the student in the student's home or first language while the student is also learning English.  If it is not practical for the school district to teach the student in both languages, then the district can offer “alternative instructional programs.”  Some examples are: bringing English language instruction to the student's regular classroom (sometimes called “push in”) or pulling the student out of the regular classroom for instruction (sometimes called “pull out”).  The student can learn English in groups or just on their own with a teacher.  Parents can always choose to opt-out of English Learner programs.
  • Ensure Equal Access and Inclusion of English Learners School districts must make sure that English Learner students have the opportunity to participate in all district programs and services that they qualify for, including Highly Capable programs, extra-curricular programs.

Sometimes, making sure that the student can participate means offering interpretation or translation. If you have questions about how or whether an English Learner student can participate in a school program or service, try:

  • Talking to the school principal; and/or
  • Contacting the school district's English Learner department.

If you need help, please contact OEO. Learn more about how school districts can provide meaningful access for students learning English by reading the US Department of Education's English Learner Toolkit. Available in multiple languages on the US Department of Education's website, here:

Learn more about English Learner Assessments and Programs at OSPI's Migrant/Transitional Bilingual Instruction web page, here: Read more about how (and why) public schools are doing more to help students keep and build skills in multiple languages, here: and here:

Language Access – Interpretation and Translation

Access OEO's Services with Interpretation or Translation

  • Request Interpretation when you call

OEO uses a telephone interpreter service. Call 1-866-297-2597 and request an interpreter by saying the name of the language you speak.

  • Find translated copies of Working with OEO (brief information about how we work), and OEO's Permission to Contact Schools forms here: 
  • Request a translation or interpretation of OEO documents by calling 1-866-297-2597 or emailing us at 

Language Access Resources for Families

Parents have a right to receive important information from schools in a language they can understand.  School Districts must provide interpretation and/or translation services, when needed, to communicate with parents who have limited English (including parents with limited speaking, listening, reading or writing fluency in English).

Read more about the Rights of Parents with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and obligations of school districts at the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights English Learners Resources web page, here:

(Fact Sheets for Limited English Proficient Parents and for Schools and School Districts that Communicate with them posted in multiple languages, including Cambodian, Chinese, Hmong, Korean, Laotian, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.)

Quick tips for Parents/Families: If you need interpretation or translation to understand information from your child's school or to communicate with your child's school:

  • Ask for an interpreter at the school's front desk, or ask if the staff person can get an interpreter on the telephone using a “language line”;
  • Call the school's main phone number and ask for an interpreter;
  • Send a short email (in English or in your own language) asking for someone to call you, with an interpreter, to plan a meeting or talk about a question or concern.

Example email to request an interpreter:

Dear Teacher (or Principal, Counselor, Nurse):

My name is ____ I am the mother of ____. I want to talk with you about my child. Can you please call me with an interpreter? My phone number is: ____. Thank you.

  • If you receive a written notice, an email, or other document in English and you do not understand it, ask the person who sent it for a translation into your language.
  • If the person cannot provide a full written translation in time, ask to meet with a school staff person and an interpreter to have the document orally translated, with enough time for you to take notes.

Communicating-with-Schools_Language-Access-Trifold-Multilanguage.pdf or, OEO's Interpretation Support Tip Card (English/Spanish)

If you have questions, or need help getting interpretation or translation, try contacting:

  • Your child's Principal;
  • Your school district's Director of English Language (ELL) Services; or
  • Your school district's Equity Director.

If you need help, please call OEO at 1-866-267-2597. Phone interpretation is available.

Language Access Resources for School Districts

Find information and resources at OSPI's Equity & Civil Rights Interpretation and Translation Services page, including:

  • Civil rights laws that require school districts to communicate with parents in a language they can understand;
  • Fact sheets on Parents' Rights re Interpretation and Translation Services translated into 21 different languages;
  • Multi-language poster informing families how to request interpretation or translation;
  • Link to WSSDA Language Access Policy and Procedure;
  • Details for setting up a telephone interpreter service and/or written translation services via the state contract;
  • Links to online training for interpreters, and school staff who work with interpreters. You can also check out OEO's handout on Communicating with Families Using an Interpreter.

Native American / Indigenous Languages

Prior to the 1800s, the languages most commonly spoken in the area that is now Washington State included different Coast Salish languages spoken by Tribes in the Puget Sound region, Interior Salish languages spoken by Tribes east of the Cascade mountains and languages spoken by the Makah, Quileute and other tribes on the Pacific coast. Despite U.S. government policies that aimed to erase Native languages and cultural traditions, Tribes in this region have preserved their languages, and are working to revitalize their use among youth and elders. All school districts in Washington State are now required to incorporate tribal government, history and culture into their social studies curricula, and districts are encouraged to offer instruction in Native American languages. Districts are encouraged to develop government to government relationships with the Tribes in their areas to partner in meeting this charge. Many Tribes offer resources and classes in their languages through their Tribal language or education departments, and partner with their area school districts to ensure students can earn credit for learning their own language. Some school districts offer classes at elementary or high school levels in their area Tribes' languages. Teachers of Native American languages must be certified according to the First Peoples' Language, Culture and Oral Tribal Traditions Certification Program. (Read more about the Certification program, here: Learn more: Many Tribal Governments share information about their history, culture and languages on their websites and in their museums.  Find links and information about Washington Tribes at the Governor's Office of Indian Affairs (GOIA): or at Washington Tribes: Learn More: Read about and find curriculum materials for the Tribal Sovereignty Curriculum developed by the Tribes in Washington in collaboration with OSPI's Office of Native Education, Since Time Immemorial, at:

Supporting Bilingual Abilities

Washington state public schools are doing many different things to encourage students to learn more than one language. Some schools offer dual language immersion programs, meaning that students learn in English and another language. For students who speak another language, there are opportunities to earn credits for high school graduation by taking a test (to earn what are called competency credits). Students must earn credits in world languages to graduate now and students with these skills already can make great use of meeting those requirements. School districts are also encouraged to partner, in government to government relationships with Tribes, to offer opportunities to learn indigenous Tribal languages, taught by teachers certified by the Tribes. Finally, students who have demonstrated a high level of proficiency in English and a second language can earn a Seal of Biliteracy when they graduate. Bilingualism is important and helps to preserve and explore different cultures through languages. Learn more about benefits of supporting bilingualism for your child: Speak Your Language! (available in 23 languages)

Dual Language Immersion Programs

What they are: Programs where students receive instruction directly in two languages during the school day. The goal is for students to learn to speak, listen, read and write in both languages. Generally, students are expected to participate in a Dual Language program for several years to reach that goal. Where they are: In an increasing number of public schools in Washington state. Check out the map posted on OSPI's Dual Languages web page to find current Dual Language programs around the state: Who can participate: Generally, dual language programs are “choice” programs. That means families that are interested can request that their child be placed in a dual language program. If there is more interest in the program than space available, districts might use a lottery system or a first come/first placed system. Check with your district's office to find out if there is a Dual Language Immersion option in your district, and what the process is for enrolling. What languages are taught: Spanish and English Dual Language programs are most common in Washington State. Some districts have Dual Language programs that combine Japanese and English; Mandarin Chinese and English; and Vietnamese and English. We can expect to see more languages added over time. Where to learn more: Find resources for Professional Learning and Curriculum and watch videos featuring some of Washington's dual language programs at OSPI's Dual Language website:

World Language Competency Credits

School districts in Washington State can offer students the option of taking an exam that shows their ability to speak, listen, read, and write in a second language.  Students can earn up to 4 high school credits for world language.

  • Students can earn credits by showing what they know on the language exams, without having to take a class at school.
  • For students who have maintained their ability to speak in their own, or their family's first language, they can use these experiences to earn credits toward graduation requirements.
  • Students can earn credits in languages that are not offered as courses at their own high school.

To earn credits, students will need to be able to speak, listen, read and write in the language.  Sometimes, students who speak a language other than English at home will need to spend some time studying the language more formally to do well on the exam. Learn More: Students/Families and Educators – find more information about the competency credit option and Sample World Language Tests at OSPI's World Languages web page, here: To find out details regarding when and where tests are offered, and whether there is a fee, contact your high school counselor, look on your district's web page, or call your district's office. Community schools and culture clubs can work with their local school districts to propose that students receive World Language Competency-based Credit based on an agreement between the district and program. Work with the district to determine whether students can be granted the credits before they take a test or class. For more information, visit OSPI's World Languages web page. If your district does not yet offer a World Language Competency Credit test, talk with your school counselor and principal, and reach out to your district's administration to ask about options for making the tests available. If you need help, contact OEO. For more information, on the program visit the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction's Road Map World Language Credit Program page. World Language Credit Brochures English (black & white) Amharic Arabic Chinese Nepali Punjabi Russian Somali Spanish Tagalog Vietnamese World Language Credits Video Clips on YouTube Courtesy of OneAmerica: Samoan Somali Spanish Tagalog Tigrinya, Vietnamese Amharic Cambodian Chinese Korean Punjabi Russian Arabic

Washington State Seal of Biliteracy

School districts in Washington can offer students the option of earning the Washington State Seal of Biliteracy. The Seal of Biliteracy recognizes public high school graduates who have attained a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in one or more world languages in addition to English. Students can earn the Seal in different ways, including:

  • Taking world language courses at school and earning strong scores on AP (Advanced Placement) or IB (International Baccalaureate) World Language exams
  • Earning 4 World Language Competency-based Credits

For more details, including other ways students can demonstrate a high level of proficiency in a world language, visit OSPI's World Languages web page, here: School districts do not have to participate, but they can.  If your district does not offer the option of the Seal of Biliteracy, talk with your high school counselor and principal and reach out to your school district administrators. Educators interested in learning more about how to participate and offer the Seal of Biliteracy can find detailed information at OSPI's World Languages web page, here:

What if I don’t speak or read English well?

Notices and communication from the school about your child's attendance should be in your primary language. The school should make sure an interpreter is available for meetings to talk about your child's attendance.  If you are having a hard time getting an interpreter, you can try calling the school or the district main office. You can also call OEO for help at 1-866-297-2597.

How can OEO help?

OEO is here to listen to your questions and concerns, share information, and work with you to figure out what steps you can try to make things better for your child. In some cases, with a parent or guardian's permission, we can work directly with you and the school or district to try to clarify what's going on, and find out what's possible to address the situation. Read more about how we work, or call us at 1-866-297-2597.