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In a city where 90 languages are spoken, Dallas officials want more workers who are bilingual

UT Dallas International Center

The City of Dallas is working to expand language access throughout the city. That means offering pay incentives to bilingual workers — and making sure city departments comply with newly adopted equity goals.

That’s according to a briefing by city officials during the Workforce, Education and Equity committee meeting Monday.

Over 40% of Dallas residents speak another language other than English at home — and more than 90 different languages are spoken in the city, according to the briefing. City officials say that Dallas became the first certified “Welcoming City” in Texas in 2019 — but the title came with requirements.

“It’s important to note that at that time, the certification was provisional based on the understanding that the city had to make strides to improve it’s language access efforts,” Office of Equity and Inclusion Director Dr. Lindsey Wilson said.

Language compensation

According to the city’s presentation, the Language Skills Assignment Pay (LSAP) program was established almost 40 years ago. The plan is aimed at compensating bilingual city workers for “needed oral speaking and listening services in another language.” Eligible employees who are certified receive monthly compensation for their work.

Nina Arias is the city’s director of human resources. She says that the LSAP program is “language specific, position specific and person specific.”

“The first part of this equation is we identify…that there is a need for people in that position to provide language services,” Arias said.

She says from there the city identifies which languages are needed and finds someone who meets the program’s requirements. Then the city either certifies or re-certifies the worker for a language assignment.

City workers will have to renew their certifications every two or five years – depending on proficiency level. In addition to recertification, workers in the LSAP program will be reviewed annual during performance reviews.

The LSAP program is being revised to include both written and oral testing for eligible city employees to complete before certification.

Meeting equity demands

In addition to implementing a revised pay incentive program for city-workers, other departments are looking to expand access to resources in different languages too.

The 311 Customer Service Center is responsible for making sure residents know the best department to contact if they have any city related issue. From burst pipes to garbage pickup.

Service agents are responsible for routing residents to the right department to handle their request or complaints. But according to the department’s progress measure, out of around 110 service agents less than 10% of them are bilingual — and there are no bilingual supervisor in the department.

The department hopes to change that by making sure to increase the numbers of bilingual supervisors and service agents in the coming years.

City officials say this is to make sure every department is meeting the new racial equity framework adopted by the city last year.

“In 2022 the Racial Equity Plan was adopted and centered the expansion of language access with several department measures directly tied,” Wilson said.

Outgoing Council Member Casey Thomas says that he’s glad to see multiple departments coming together to address the issue of language access. But says residents need to be involved in the conversation.

“Definitely listen to the councilmembers, listen to the residents on any input regarding language access that they can provide you,” Thomas said.

“Often times staff looks at a situation and says, ‘okay I think this is how we should handle it’ but I think it’s really important to get feedback.”

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at ncollins@kera.org. You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.