How Poor Machine Translation Could Lead to Legal Issues

by: Jim Maziejka

Poor machine translation in public schools could potentially lead to legal challenges if it results in inadequate language support for students and their families. 

While machine translation technology has improved over time, it still has limitations compared to human translations, especially when dealing with complex or nuanced content.

Challenges of Machine Translations

Here are some ways in which poor machine translation could lead to legal issues:

Violation of Civil Rights Laws

If poor machine translation leads to a lack of effective communication with limited English proficient (LEP) students and their families, it could be seen as a violation of civil rights laws. Schools that receive federal funding are required to provide language assistance to ensure equal access to education and information.

Failure to Provide Equal Education Opportunities

Inadequate machine translation could result in LEP students not receiving the same educational opportunities as their English-speaking peers. This could potentially lead to legal challenges claiming a violation of the right to an equal education.

Inaccurate or Misleading Information

Poor machine translation might lead to inaccurate or misleading translations of important school-related information, such as notices of school events, academic progress or disciplinary actions. If such inaccuracies lead to misunderstandings or negative consequences, it could result in legal action.

Parental Involvement and Engagement

Schools are required to involve parents in their children’s education. If poor machine translation hinders effective communication between schools and parents, it could impact parental involvement and engagement, potentially leading to legal issues.

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)

For students with disabilities, accurate communication between parents and schools is crucial to developing and implementing appropriate IEPs. Poor machine translation for IEPs might hinder this communication, potentially leading to legal challenges related to the provision of special education services.

Communication of Safety and Emergency Information

In emergency situations or safety-related matters, accurate and timely communication is essential. Poor machine translation could result in critical information not being effectively communicated, which could have legal implications in case of any negative outcomes.

To mitigate the risk of legal challenges related to poor machine translation, public schools should:

  • Assess the accuracy and reliability of machine translation tools before using them for critical communications.
  • Provide alternative language support options, such as human translation when dealing with important or sensitive information.
  • Regularly review and update machine translation systems to improve accuracy and account for any specific linguistic or cultural nuances.
  • Ensure that LEP students and their families have access to effective language assistance to fully participate in the educational process.

Ultimately, public schools should prioritize effective and accurate communication with all members of the school community, regardless of their language background, to avoid potential legal issues related to poor machine translation.

Examples of Legal Challenges

There have been cases where public schools have faced legal challenges or lawsuits related to poor machine language translation services. These cases typically involve issues where schools have failed to provide quality language support to students and families who speak languages other than English.

Here are a few examples:

Equal Education Opportunities

Public schools have a legal obligation to provide equal educational opportunities to students, regardless of their language background. When schools fail to provide qualitative language translation services, they may be sued for violating students’ rights to equal access to education.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Schools that receive federal funding are required to provide qualitative language assistance to limited English proficient (LEP) students and their families. Failure to do so could lead to legal action.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The IDEA mandates that schools provide appropriate services to students with disabilities to ensure they receive a free and appropriate public education. If language translation services are not provided to parents or guardians of students with disabilities, it could impact their ability to participate effectively in their child’s education and IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings.

Bilingual Education Laws

Nearly all states have laws that require schools to provide bilingual education or support to English language learners (ELLs). If schools fail to meet these requirements and do not provide adequate translation services, they are subject to legal challenges.

Limited English Proficient (LEP) Students

Federal and state laws require schools to identify and assess LEP students and provide them with appropriate language services to ensure they have access to the curriculum. Failure to provide adequate translation services could lead to legal action by parents or advocacy groups.

Communication with Parents

Schools are often required to communicate important information to parents, such as notices of school events, academic progress and disciplinary actions. If these communications are not effectively translated, it can hinder parental involvement and engagement, potentially leading to legal challenges.

It’s important to note each state may have additional regulations and policies related to ELL students and IEPs. Because of this, educators and parents need to familiarize themselves with both federal and state-level laws and guidelines to ensure ELL students receive the appropriate support and services.

Closing Out: Machine Translation

It’s important to note that each case is unique, and legal outcomes can vary based on specific circumstances and local laws. Public schools should take steps to ensure they are providing adequate language translation services for their school to meet the needs of their diverse student populations and avoid potential legal issues.

Pierian Spring Group uses highly skilled human translators to translate the message of your content so that it reads as if it were written by a native speaker. Contact us to get started on your school’s next translation project.

More Translation Insights

© 2023, Pierian Spring Group.
All Rights Reserved.