Survey: More than half of US teachers concerned about language barriers with ESL parents

Education Dive

Dive Brief:

  • A recent ClassDojo survey of more than 560 randomly-selected teachers nationwide indicates 71% of those surveyed have taught students for whom English is a second language in the past three years, and 56% worry parents of these students don’t have enough English language skills to effectively participate in parent-teacher conferences and other aspects of school communication and experiences, according to a press release.
  • The survey also indicates that 55% of schools translate parent correspondence into foreign languages, and 28% of schools don’t translate such correspondence at all. Schools that translate correspondence rely mainly on bilingual teachers for translation, while 16% of schools use a translation service — and almost half of teachers rely on the students themselves, or their siblings, to act as a translator between parents and students, a situation where a lot of important information can be lost in translation.
  • Without effective methods of communication, parents of ELL students have difficulty understanding the educational needs of students, helping with homework, and serving as class volunteers, though a variety of apps are making communication easier and more effective if teachers and school districts use them.
Dive Insight:

Good parent-teacher communication and relationship-building are important parts of the educational process. When parents and teachers are working together, children are more likely to learn. However, good communication and relationship building are often hard to accomplish when parents speak another language.

Engaging ESL parents takes extra effort and a variety of approaches, but connecting with these parents is worth it in the end. Most ESL parents know how hard it is to move in a society that does not understand them and so are doubly committed to making sure that their children succeed in school. Once they understand the education process, these parents can become effective allies.

The use of translators or communication tools such as the ClassDojo Translate feature can be one step toward improving parent-teacher communication, especially during parent-teacher conferences. While children sometimes can translate for parents, they may not convey negative information, and they may not know enough vocabulary to convey the needed information. But teachers also need to find ways to engage these parents by trying to connect with them and see the world through their eyes.

Reaching out to ELL families is important, but some schools are going a step further by helping parents find ways to learn English for themselves or by offering ESL classes at school in the evening. This effort not only helps parents communicate better with kids, it also helps provide them the tools they need to get better-paying jobs. This effort can pay off in the long run not only by increasing parent-teacher communication but also by providing students with an example to follow and a more secure family future.