Tips on Teachers Communicating With Parents Who Don't Speak English

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Communication between teachers and parents is important, because it helps to sustain parent-school collaboration and increases each child's learning potential, says Dr. Beth Harry, educator on multicultural issues at the University of Miami.

However, cultural differences and language difficulties may hinder teachers' attempts to communicate with parents.

The most effective solution is to find someone who speaks the language to help teachers translate, says Dr. Suzanne Irujo, contributing writer for "The English Language Learner Outlook." Teachers can also learn just a few words of the parents' home language to show that they recognise it and welcome its use in school. They may also use non-verbal communication methods in their interactions with parents.

Host "Family Nights"

Kristina Robertson, professional development educator at the Color in Colorado Website, advises teachers to host informal family nights in the classroom, with snacks and fun learning activities for pupils and parents who do not speak English. Teachers can help the pupils to prepare simple, pictorial invitations to their parents to tell them the date and time of the meeting. Family nights help teachers to break initial communication barriers. Teachers gain awareness of pupils' cultures, and parents begin to feel more at ease in the classroom setting. Teachers can encourage parents and children to join in with educational activities, such as math games and alphabet lotto games that will help parents to understand the learning objectives for their children.

Use Visual Aids

Teachers should use extensive non-verbal communication in their interactions with non-English speaking parents, such as gestures, facial expressions, mime and pictorial clues, says Irujo. Teachers should overcome any embarrassment and imagine that they are playing games such as "Charades" or "Pictionary," which require creative use of visual clues. Robertson agrees that teachers should "show rather than tell" the curriculum to parents who do not speak English. Teachers can show parents examples of previous student work so that parents understand the topics that children will study during the school year. Bright classroom wall displays, with photographs and simple captions will also help teachers to communicate with parents by providing visual examples of their kids' activities at school.

Work With an Interpreter

Teachers should not ask pupils to interpret for their parents at meetings, says Robertson, because pupils may feel uncomfortable sharing information about themselves. They may not successfully translate the phrases and vocabulary that their teachers use. Teachers should meet with the interpreter prior to the parent-teacher conference to outline the agenda and schedule. They should also ensure that the interpreter translates information without offering any advice or opinions. When enlisting the help of a translator for a parent-teacher conference, teachers should make eye contact with the parents and talk directly with them, rather than with the translator. Teachers should speak at an even pace; they should pause regularly to enable translation of manageable chunks of information.