The Race to Translate: Which Parent Communication Tool Will Reign Supreme?

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The Race to Translate: Which Parent Communication Tool Will Reign Supreme?

By Mary Jo Madda (Columnist)     Oct 7, 2015

The Race to Translate: Which Parent Communication Tool Will Reign Supreme?

First, it was parent-teacher communication by texting. Now, ClassDojo and Remind seem to be in a race to share information with parents in whatever native language they speak.

As if the CEOs had planned it, ClassDojo and Remind both announced new translation features within several days of one another. On October 3, the ClassDojo blog announced that families could translate all classroom announcements, or “Class Stories,” into their preferred language--a feature that had been soft launched early in September. Days before, on September 29, Remind announced that it would soon be releasing “Remind Translate,” a feature which allows teachers to translate text messages into six different languages on the mobile app.

Deja vu?

Whether teachers prefer to use ClassDojo or Remind, both companies may soon be getting a run for their money when it comes to translation features. Now, a new tool hopes to enter the parent-teacher communication space--and it’s packing a bit of a different punch from ClassDojo and Remind. For starters, it’s a nonprofit, it’s only two months old and it’s the only edtech--or tech, for that matter--company that got a coveted Top 10 spot in the Google Impact Challenge: Bay Area.

It’s called TalkingPoints, and it enables teachers, families and students to talk to each other via SMS, translating the English texts to the family's native language.Founded by Stanford grad HeeJae Lim, a Korean immigrant student brought up in the UK, TalkingPoints translates into messages for parents into more than 200 different languages. How? At the moment, it’s hooked into Google Translate, offering teachers an extremely wide variety of languages to choose from. And each time a teacher sends a message, the text comes both in English and the new language.

This may cause one to pause, given than Google Translate doesn’t always get the nuances of phrasing correct. However, TalkingPoints Lim told EdSurge in an interview that this actually doesn’t seem to matter to parents. “What we’re learning is that the emotional connection of the text is more important that the exact correctness of the translation,” she says. “The parents feel engaged that they can participate in the student’s education, and that the teacher has gone through the extra step for them.”

This is quite powerful when you consider that the the children of immigrants represent a growing share of the nation's total child population; in fact, that number rose from 13.5 percent of the population to 25 percent between 1990 and 2009. Lim reports that in the Bay Area alone, 112 languages are spoken by different communities.

The app is currently browser-based and free, and Lim’s big focus currently is looking for schools and teachers to partner with. Lim reports that she and her team plan to eventually release an app and provide parent engagement analytics for schools for a small fee. But according to Lim, TalkingPoints will always be a nonprofit, unlike ClassDojo and Remind.

“Our mission is to empower [parents] to be partners and have a voice,” Lim says. “This is a tool for meaningful connection.”

With Google’s support--both technically and financially, if TalkingPoints wins the Google Impact Challenge--one has to wonder how ClassDojo and Remind can compete with a translator tool that translates English into hundreds of languages. But Lim doesn’t care as much about that as she does about what these movements says about the ESL and ELL markets.

“There’s an increasing number of ESL families in this country. They’re going from a minority to much more common. The whole talk around immigration, the number of languages speak in the U.S.--it’s now becoming more mainstream,” she says. “It used to be a niche sector, but I don’t think it is anymore.”

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