Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tech Tip Tuesday: Using Google Voice to Communicate with ELL Families

Time for another Tech Tip Tuesday, and I'm really excited to share this little tip with you- and not just because I made an infographic, either! One of the biggest questions that I get when I lead PD, from ESOL teachers and mainstream teachers alike, is "How can I make communicating with families easier if I don't speak their language?" Another problem that I ran into was that many of my ELL parents worked two jobs or jobs at odd hours, and weren't always able to call me during school hours. I wanted to be able to communicate with them, but wasn't comfortable giving out my personal cell phone number. I've talked before about using Gmail's translate feature to communicate with parents, but not every parent has gmail or checks their email regularly.

So, here's your tech tip- Google Voice can really make two way communication with families of ELLs just as easy as communicating with English speaking families! In addition, you can also use this tip to communicate with ANY parent, while keeping your own personal phone number private.

To get started, first login to your Gmail account (if you don't have one, get one- it's free!). Go to the apps menu in the upper right corner (it looks like a little waffle). Scroll down until you see "Even more from Google" and click there.

Next, you'll get a screen with many many links. Scroll down to "Home & Office" and select "Google Voice".

Once you're there, follow these steps:

  1. Agree to the terms and conditions.
  2. Select "I want a new number".
  3. Put in your cell phone number- this will not be shared with parents, but it needs to be entered so that the texts and calls to your Google Voice number can be forwarded to your personal number. 
  4. Enter your school's zip code and select a number for your school's city. 
Now, you can share your Google Voice number with parents, and you can text back-and-forth at any time. If the parent speaks English or you speak their home language, then you can also use this number for voice calls and even voicemails.

If you need to put your text message into the parent's home language, you can do that using Google Translate. Parents can respond in their home language and you can also use Google Translate to translate their response so you can read and understand it. Google Translate has improved vastly from the old days- largely because they've been crowdsourcing translation for several years, allowing users to contribute more accurate translations. This means that overall, Google Translate is pretty darn accurate these days. Just to be sure, I always copy, paste, and translate back to English.

In addition to storing the communication on your phone, Google Voice also collects it all (for easy documentation!!) in your Google Voice account in a pretty handy view that is very similar to your Gmail. 

The teachers in our district that are using this tool to communicate with parents are thrilled with the results. It only takes a few seconds to send a parent good news about their child, let them know about an upcoming school event, or to contact the parent with concerns- no need to call for an interpreter. Parents feel much more connected to what is going on in their child's school or classroom, and students are thrilled when their parents get "good news" texts. 

Here's a handy infographic to help walk you through the steps:

Why this is great for ELLs:
I think this goes without saying, but....there are so many reasons! Making the parents feel more connected to what is going on at school and in the classroom has so many benefits, from increased motivation, greater parent involvement, and the ability to handle important situations and communicate urgent information right away- without having to wait for a translator. 


  1. Laurah - this is the smartest thing ever...I had no idea. Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Thanks Vicky! Let me know how it goes if you use it!