When it comes to phone interactions, non-English speakers are accustomed to explaining the best they can to whomever answers a call that they need assistance in their desired language. Quite often their needs go unresolved.

Overcoming language barriers during phone interactions frequently presents a challenge, often leading to frustration for multicultural individuals. Many stop attempting to communicate and become less engaged.

Fortunately, there is a simple remedy that can widen phone access and increase community engagement. These multilingual phone trees – which LanguageLine Solutions® calls DirectResponseSM – are quickly being implemented around North America.

Multilingual phone trees allow for an interpreter’s voice to be the first one the limited English caller hears so that the entire call can be conducted in the language they need. DirectResponse provides an in-language experience for limited English callers from the beginning of the call to the end.

The result is a more inviting experience for all callers. Whether you are a business, healthcare facility, school, or government agency, DirectResponse allows you to engage more fully with the community you serve by making your organization available by phone to your entire potential audience.

In this blog, we’ll first show you how DirectResponse works and then provide an example of how one client implemented it.

How Multilingual Phone Trees Work

Any organization can easily embed a call flow so that an interpreter is by the caller’s side the entire time. Here’s how it works:

The organization embeds a LanguageLine toll-free number into its phone tree. It is imperceptible to the limited English caller that an external interpretation company is facilitating the call. From the caller’s perspective, the office they are calling has installed an easy communication system to better facilitate a call.

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The limited English caller is greeted by a language menu. They choose their language from in-language prompts and are connected directly to an interpreter. The limited English caller and interpreter are then connected to the organization’s office together. From the moment the organization’s representative is connected to the call, the interpreter helps facilitate the conversation.

Once the toll-free number is embedded in the client’s Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology, there is no ramp-up time for interpretation services. Since the limited English customer is calling the main number, there is no separate number to call and no external messaging to limited English populations.

DirectResponse is especially valuable in situations in which the limited English caller already has anxiety and really needs easy access to in-language support so that they will not hang up or avoid communications.

Multilingual Phone Trees in Action

As first reported by WOOD-TV, the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office in Grand Rapids, Mich., implemented DirectResponse in its efforts to overcome language barriers.

When people call the prosecutor’s office, they are given a multilingual phone tree with nine language options.

WATCH: Kent County Prosecutor Adds Interpretation Program to Phone Line

The system connects callers to a LanguageLine legal interpreter with a click of a button. The interface features English, Spanish, Nepali, Somali, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Farsi, Korean, and French.

“It saves the client time, it saves us time, and ultimately it provides better services to the public,” said Brandy Johnson, Administer for the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office.

During the pandemic, the prosecutor’s office was working on ways to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion. So, they thought to start at the front desk.

LEARN MORE: What to Do If You Can’t Staff Your Bilingual Call Center

Under the old system, a client would call in, the receptionist would assess if a legal interpreter was needed, and a complicated process would begin.

“It could take you 10 to 15 minutes just to try to get that conversation going,” Johnson said. “Meanwhile, sometimes (callers) would hang up.”

That can cause big legal problems.

LEARN MORE: LanguageLine DirectResponse Allows In-Language from Beginning to End

Ben O’Hearn, an attorney at Migrant Legal Aid, said most of his clients speak Spanish. He says previously by the time information was interpreted, the client may have missed key court deadlines.

That can cause long-term effects because in some cases, undocumented individuals can be eligible for a visa, relief from deportation, and potentially a green card or citizenship. But that can only happen if they cooperate with law enforcement.

“If they miss key deadlines when they are working with the prosecution, then the prosecutor’s office might believe that they have not been cooperative,” O’Hearn said.

The prosecutor’s office partnered with LanguageLine. Now before the conversation begins, a caller is connected to an interpreter who speaks their language.

“I think it’s a really good step to help them have more access to the justice system,” O’Hearn said.

Learn More

Are you interested in having an interpreter on the line from the beginning of a call to the end? If so, DirectResponse may be an excellent fit for your organization.

It begins with a conversation. We invite you to contact us through our website, via email at, or phone at 800-752-6096.  

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