Language Barriers for Effective Participation

Some districts require as policy the inclusion of ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages).  Statutes do require School Advisory Councils to be a diverse group mirroring the composition of student demographics  (race, ethnic and socio-economics) at that school.  Schools may have large populations of Hispanic or Haitian or any other ethnic group which are traditionally hard to attract parent participation.  Language is often the barrier that keeps parents from participating in SAC.  While many SACs seem to talk in a foreign language with the use of common school jargon called acronyms, at least we share the English language.  SAC meetings are often confusing to non-english speaking parents/guardians.  Here are some ideas and resources to try to reach those parents.
These Websites will translate web pages or text to other languages.  The automated translations are not perfect, but they can give you a general idea of what is being communicated. Some of the languages have more limited lexicons than others, so the quality of translation can vary between the languages.
  > Bablefish - - AltaVista Translations
> - English to Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian & Norwegian
> Google Language Tools
> SYSTRAN - Language Translations
> World Language - Online Translation
> The Dialectizer - (ok, this won't help but it is fun & a good way to break the ice in meetings with humor!)

Ideas to bring in parents of other languages

1. Use the translator programs to provide information to parents in their native language.
2. Change or vary the location - do you bus in students from neighboring areas for diversity?  Maybe a meeting or two can be held at a local church, recreation center or school.  (A Spanish speaking church perhaps?)
3. Create Parent-Partners.  A bi-lingual parent or teacher could "mentor" or partner a parent that may not participate otherwise.  One may, as a partner:   Remind the parent of meetings, share rides, call and chat with the parent, answer questions or explain SAC, the mission and goals, make the parent feel like they are not alone, that they have a friend to sit get the idea!.   
4. Buddy System - one SAC member will share rides with the other "buddy" SAC member -- this if also effective for language barriers (one may interpret for another) or just to bring in new members - every SAC member will have the job of sponsoring one "buddy" SAC member.
5. "I suppose, but if you have any parents whose native language is not English, you have to get someone in the school who speaks their language to invite them PERSONALLY and let them know that there will someone who can devote their attention to translating if need be. This came to mind because at our meeting tonight, I saw an Hispanic couple that has attended regularly this year, but we have Spanish-speaking parents and faculty members who sit with them and fill them in on what's being discussed.  Here is a couple that speaks little to no English, yet they faithfully attend meetings."   (submitted by John L. Perry, Hillsborough Teacher)
6. Language Barriers: If the school is an "ESOL" school or has many ethnic students, each monthly SAC meeting could "spotlight" that a language and provide an interpreter.  For example, November's meeting may have a Spanish interpreter, December's meeting a Bosnian interpreter, January's meeting an Asian interpreter...etc...
7. *** "Re: The language of the month idea, maybe that could be refined to spotlighting important cultural events. In a multicultural school with representatives from a variety of language backgrounds I would think that a school would want to ensure that all parents got appropriate translations at every meeting."
         "It has been my experience that parents get involved when they are made to feel welcome in the decision-making and when they are given meaningful opportunities for participation and when they see tangible results of their participation.  This appears to hold true no matter what the economic or cultural backgrounds might be. Schools who operate from the assumption that parents are vital partners in the process of education seem to be most successful in this regard."  (submitted by A.W. DOE)

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