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85 languages, thousands of translations: City’s new dashboard highlights services to a polyglot Philly

The Language Services Usage dashboard is meant to be a tool for City workers, researchers, community organizations, or anyone else interested in understanding the languages spoken in Philly.

The Mid-Autumn Festival in Chinatown in September.
The Mid-Autumn Festival in Chinatown in September.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

The Philadelphia Office of Immigrant Affairs released a new digital database, called the Language Services Usage dashboard, last week. The interactive site shows detailed data for all of the language services Philadelphians use when they access city services and programs. The data covers the last fiscal year, from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022.

According to the dashboard, these departments and agencies provided 87,000 interpretations and 1,600 translations, working in 85 different languages.

The language services counted in the dashboard include document translations, as well as interpretations provided in person, over video, or the phone. While the Department of Public Health and its Ambulatory Health Services provided most of the interactions over the fiscal year, 62 departments and agencies offered services.

Previously, OIA had collected this data from its language service vendors, but it was never put together in a single, streamlined database. Maria Giraldo Gallo, the office’s language access program manager, saw how useful the information could be not only for herself, but for other city officials and the public. She worked with the city’s Office of Innovation and Technology to share the information through the dashboard.

Giraldo Gallo said that the data can help city employees better understand the people they are serving. “This is helping [us] create awareness [for] what’s been happening at [different departments and agencies] so [our] colleagues can be aware of — yes, you don’t only do Spanish [language services]. In fact, you are doing 15 languages.”

“As a Welcoming City, our goal is to ensure that City of Philadelphia programs, resources, and policies are accessible to everyone, including refugee and immigrant communities,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “Language access services make it easier to connect with and support Philadelphia’s diverse communities in an intentional and meaningful way, and we are excited to not only share but build on these efforts.”

OIA also intends for the dashboard to be a tool for community organizations, journalists, researchers, or any other interested Philadelphian to better understand the city’s diverse communities.

Spanish was the most common language addressed by services, representing nearly 69% of interactions in the database. Of the non-Spanish languages, Portuguese was the most common, followed by Mandarin, representing 27% and 13% of the non-Spanish services, respectively.

Other languages required services more rarely, but translations and interpretations were still provided nonetheless. Some of those less-common languages include Ashanti (spoken primarily in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire), Nepali, Navajo, sign language, and Italian.

Giraldo Gallo pointed to the over 2,000 services provided in Haitian Creole as an example of the database’s utility.

“Sometimes people were only [providing] French [language services] and assuming that the Haitian Creole population would understand French,” she said, explaining that the data shows people’s preference for Creole. “That’s important to me because we are trying to have a racial lens to our work as well. And we know that the experience of Black immigrants is different from [other] immigrants.”

The OIA plans to publish updates to the dashboard and other relevant data each fiscal year. Giraldo Gallo said that over time, she hopes the dashboard helps spread awareness of the fact that non-English speakers have a right to language services in Philadelphia.

“The more we talk about it, the more [people] inquire and ask for more of these services.”