Communicating in a Pandemic – How Cities Can Better Reach Non-English Speakers

Posted by Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity on August 4, 2020

About 25 million U.S. residents are not fluent English speakers. During a public-health emergency in which clear communication is critical, cities are having a hard time reaching them with critical information — and having an even harder time hearing back from these residents about their own needs.

What can cities do to strengthen communication with non-English speakers? That was the focus of a conversation among city leaders convened last week by What Works Cities. The challenges go well beyond translating press releases or tweets. There are also cultural barriers to contend with, mistrust of government among many communities, and the need for city leaders to be able to listen — and not just talk — in languages besides English.

While cities have struggled in this area for years, the COVID-19 crisis — and the disproportionate toll disease is taking among people of color — means leaders need to up their game. As What Works Cities’ Charlotte Carr, who hosted the discussion, explained: “You can’t curb a pandemic if you’re not involving every single member of your community in a two-way conversation.”

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