Of all the resources available to teachers planning home visits, none is more valuable than the assistance of interpreters who can help them communicate with parents and learn about their culture, values, and literacy practices.
Teachers within Kansas City Public School District interested in requesting the assistance of a parent liaison or interpreter should contact Mrs. Joyce Troop, ESL Program Manager, at 816-418-8916 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) also provides interpreters in more than 30 languages at a non-profit rate. For more information on JVS services, contact Ms. Cathy Anderson, Language and Cultural Services Manager at 816-471-2808, ext. 1124, or email@example.com.
The program was designed to help educational leaders learn to listen to underrepresented voices in their districts. After meeting and interviewing the interpreters, the doctoral students role played the family interview process and then spent two hours in each home they visited. The first and last half hours were devoted to informal conversation between students and interpreters.
Understand that it is very important to talk informally for quite awhile before “getting down to business” in some cultures. It may be considered rude to immediately state your intended business without first asking how everyone in the family is doing as well as sharing something about yourself. This is often in direct contrast to the dominant Euro-American culture which places a very high value on getting to the point and getting things done as quickly as possible. Interpreters can be very helpful in establishing this cultural bridge.
Upon post-visit debriefing, eight themes emerged on the value of interpreters, home visits, and connecting in person versus sending communication home in writing. Below are four of these themes with a quote that illustrates each.
- Interpreters, as mediators of language and culture, are essential.
I heard over and over again during the interview process how important it is for families to communicate with people at the school who speak their language. The interpreters were a gold-mine of information—about culture, the needs of particular children and their families, how to navigate the public school system and American life.
- Home visits can help educators become aware of how much we don’t know, even when we think we do, about the families we serve.
I have had a false satisfaction that I was communicating with my parents when I was able to get school communiqués translated into different languages. But I was not communicating with them, I was communicating to them—because their own language tradition was primarily oral.
- Written communication, even when it is translated, can fail to reach a large number of people, especially in linguistic groups steeped in rich oral tradition.
Rising above the language barriers and developing cultural understandings are necessary steps. But, even more basic than that, is taking the time to create processes that foster this communication. There is tremendous tenacity among linguistically diverse parents to seek translation from their children, relatives, neighbors and community resources regarding school matters.
- Families are more than willing to welcome and interact with educators in their homes.
There was a sense of honor in having a “school official” visiting their home. There was a very welcoming attitude the minute you entered the room and there was also a sincere invitation to return to their home. I came away feeling humbled and in many ways grounded.