Councils are being advised to "think twice" about spending money on translation which might be better spent on English classes.
Some street signs in central London have been translated into Polish
Announcing new government guidelines, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears urged councils to use common sense before deciding what needs translating.
Translating "big annual reports...which very few people read" was not the best use of money, she told BBC News.
BBC research has suggested councils are spending £100m a year on translation.
Ms Blears spoke to BBC Breakfast ahead of a speech in which she will call on local authorities and other organisations to rethink their policies.
She said she did not want to lay down rules, but wanted to ask councils to think about whether it was necessary to translate some material.
"Sometimes translating big annual reports into lots of languages which very few people read isn't the best use of money. And that money could perhaps be better spent on English classes so that people can learn the language."
She said there was a "lot of translation... that doesn't need to happen" and said migrants who could speak English had a better chance of getting a job and being part of the community.
And she said councils, the police and NHS could work together so "instead of translating something three times, can you do something together if it has to be translated? It's basically common sense."
The BBC's Home Editor, Mark Easton, said he had been told by the Department of Health 12 months ago that an "obligation to translate is clearly laid out in the Race Relations Act".
But now the Department of Communities has insisted that "there is no legal reason for all materials to be translated", our correspondent said.
The department drew attention to anecdotal examples of "unnecessary or bizarre types of translation" - such as leaflets being rewritten in languages which were not spoken locally.
Ealing Council's chief executive Darra Singh told the BBC earlier: "The new guidance that the government are issuing today is really incredibly welcome.
"What it says is, we should take a common sense approach, switch from perhaps an automatic pilot approach to translating material, but really think about is this material really essential to be translated into another language or not?"