Student Fellowship

City of Spanglish Speakers: Solidifying Language Access in Allentown

Project Area:

Inclusive Governance


Allentown, Pennsylvania

Reporting to:

Project Manager/ Manager of Civic Innovation

The Challenge

The city of Allentown has gone through a significant demographic shift during the last 50 years, and today, 54% of the population is Hispanic or Latino. City hall, while striving to be bilingual, recognizes the need to adapt to shifting demographics and broader language access needs in order to communicate with all residents. Building a government that reflects and is responsive to the city’s diversity is a key priority for Mayor Matt Tuerk, the first Hispanic mayor of Allentown. 

Currently, the city is prioritizing communication and language accessibility, guided by prioritizing service delivery to residents via formats that meet their needs. Already, the city has adjusted hiring qualifications and is incentivizing bilingual skills in the workforce. There are currently no protocols in place for translation services or communication in a language other than English. However, the city plans to put in place a strategy for translating documents, services, and public meetings to Spanish, with the longer-term goal of including Arabic, Vietnamese and American sign language (ASL). The current administration also aspires to translate key city documents, such as the city’s charter and the 10-year strategic plan.

The city is looking for a fellow that will help create strategy and protocols to guide translation practices, promote a bilingual workforce, source local vendors for translation services, and assess options for funding these revisions to existing processes. Working closely with the Manager for Civic Innovation, the fellow will seek to answer the following key questions:

  • How can the city design a language access policy that balances equity with urgency and costs?
  • How can the city incentivize the city’s workforce to become bilingual?
  • How can the city set in motion efficient translation protocols to make information and services accessible to all residents?

What You’ll Do

The fellow will engage with key internal public facing departments like the Health Bureau, Parks and Recreation, Building Standards and Safety, and the Police Department to document process flows. In addition, they will engage the community through community organizations and the City-Hall-at-Large Program (a weekly welcoming and democratic space provided by the city in order to increase civic engagement) to understand community pain points during service interactions with the city. Through targeted stakeholder engagement, research, and analysis, the fellow will help make the case for—and help craft—a strategy and protocols for improved language access. Key deliverables will include:

  1. Process flows and points of access (and potential failures due to lack of language access) for key public-facing departments.
  2. Prototyping an employee “Professional Learning Community” with the goal of helping employees become more proficient in other languages.
  3. Research on promising language access policies and protocols deployed by peer cities of similar size and demographics.
  4. Implementation of or testing/planning of one of the initiatives from the portfolio of initiatives emerging from the city’s related civic-engagement work in the innovation track.

What You’ll Bring

The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills:

  • Marketing
  • Policy analysis
  • Design thinking
  • Stakeholder engagement and management
  • Fluency in Spanish

Apply now
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