I had the great fortune of being featured on Telemundo recently to talk briefly about Beyond Words (in Spanish).
I had the great fortune of being featured on Telemundo recently to talk briefly about Beyond Words (in Spanish).
I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.
~ Nelson Mandela
Allow me to share Chapter 6.4 of Beyond Words – A Radically Simple Solution to Unify Communities, Strengthen Businesses, and Connect Cultures Through Language.
First of all, if you are in education at any level, OMG—You guys ROCK! I wish, I WISH we as a society didn’t make your jobs so hard. But thank YOU for your passion, commitment, and contribution.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the achievement gap—the unconscionable difference in performance between minority students and white students. I know you must tear your hair out when you see the difference in reading, writing, and math scores, and that you are working each school year to close the gap.
Of course, the issue is complicated, and many factors can contribute to the achievement gap.
One contributing factor that has been identified by numerous studies relates to “Parental (or Family) Engagement.” Parents who do not know, or do not understand, the programs and services that schools provide may not be as involved as parents who are informed and engaged.
School districts around the nation are trying hard to address this disparity, and have been doing so for many years (as with school busing). In most schools here in Metro Denver, which includes half a dozen or more different school districts, you will find a “parent liaison” who is tasked with engaging the parents and keeping them up to date with what is happening.
However, when cultural differences combine with a language barrier, the problem can be amplified.
Parents who do not speak English at home (parents who did not learn English as a child and currently speak a non-English language in the home) are less likely than other parents to attend a general school meeting or school event, or to volunteer or serve on a committee, or the PTA.
Parents who do not speak English well may feel less comfortable or less welcome getting involved in their children’s schools.
Fluent communication between parents and teachers can lead to increased academic performance, positive social outcomes for children, and permanence in schools, as well as enable teachers to identify learning problems at an earlier age.
When teachers lack understanding of the cultural context of children and families, it can hinder children’s development.
“When schools, families, and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more,” according to the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.
According to the organization, students with involved parents are more likely to:
· Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs
· Be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits
· Attend school regularly
· Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school
· Graduate and go on to postsecondary education (Henderson & Mapp, 2002).
· Improve family income
Working to include parents is particularly important as students grow older and attend schools with high concentrations of poor and minority students (Rutherford et al., 1997).
Some suggestions for fostering parent/family engagement are:
· Help families with parenting and child-rearing skills
· Communicate with families about school programs and student progress and needs
· Work to improve recruitment, training, and schedules to involve families as volunteers in school activities
· Encourage families to be involved in learning activities at home
· Include parents as participants in important school decisions
· Coordinate with businesses and agencies to provide resources and services for families, students, and the community (Epstein, 2001)
Some parent liaisons are bilingual, and they are doing their best. But even bilingual isn’t enough: Denver Public Schools support 83 distinct languages.
Many schools and parent liaisons create welcome events for the parents to come and get to know the school and each other. Potluck dinners are common.
But what happens at a casual gathering like this?
At most of these events, the English speakers go to one side of the gym, and the Spanish speakers go to the other.
Now consider the ShareLingo model, where it can be a “potluck with a purpose”—the purpose being to bring English and Spanish speakers together to practice.
When we bring a group of Spanish-speaking parents into the school to practice with a group of English-speaking teachers, administrators, and other parents, it forms a bond. The conversation topics and language vocabulary focus on the things important to everyone in the room: how to help kids who are struggling, the importance of reading at home, the programs and services available to families, and school safety issues.
ShareLingo support materials are tailored to meet the school and parent needs. Almost any of your school’s bilingual materials can be incorporated. The important thing is to follow the ShareLingo model: capitalize on each participant’s innate desire to understand and to be understood.
This kind of multicultural meeting represents parental engagement at its highest level. The parents are physically coming into the school and engaging, through language learning, with the people they are most afraid of—the teachers and administrators. As the fear and misunderstanding are eliminated, confidence and trust are built. Participants on BOTH sides open up and begin to understand the other’s culture.
For you see, the misunderstandings and fears are not limited to just the immigrants!
In the Montbello neighborhood in North Denver, some schools are over 95 percent Hispanic. The teaching staff, meanwhile, is over 80 percent White. It’s not that the district only hires Whites! The district is trying desperately to hire more diversity—sometimes even marketing to Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries for teachers!
We have another huge problem in our country. We don’t pay our teachers nearly enough. It is a sad reality that it is very difficult to support a family on a teacher’s salary. So this means that many teachers are young, enthusiastic kids, really. Many are fresh out of college. They’re wonderful people who want to make a difference in the world. But many have not been exposed to the realities of the communities they may be teaching in.
Where I’m leading to is the fact that it is not just the immigrants who need to learn about our culture. We need to learn about and understand their culture and realities as well.
It’s easy for a teacher to think, “Why don’t these parents make their kids do their homework?” Well, perhaps the parents themselves aren’t able to help. It could be because of a lack of education on their part. Or it could be that they are working two or three jobs just to make ends meet. And perhaps there isn’t a nice quiet study place for the kids to do their homework. If lots of people are all living in a one- or two-bedroom apartment, it can be difficult to get quiet time. And it can be difficult to set aside time to do the homework.
When we can bring the parents into the school and start real, trusting conversations, these kinds of topics can be raised without fear or judgment. The friendly, collaborative nature of the ShareLingo program leads to real insights in both directions. Parents find out it’s ok to ask questions (something they may NEVER do in their own countries), and educators can find out more about how they can help the parents and families help their kids.
****** Dear Teacher or Administrator. I hope that you agree with the potential of this program for your school. If you would like to implement a ShareLingo style program in your school, please contact me – I want to help – and ShareLingo has a free course that you can put into practice immediately at http://www.isharelingo.com
Thank you for what you do.
Here in the United States, we value eye contact – but it’s different in the Latino Culture.
What many North Americans don’t understand is that many other cultures are just the opposite.
When I was growing up and my Mom or Dad wanted my attention, they would say, “Look at me, I’m talking to you.” They wanted me to focus on them.
When a child from Mexico, or Colombia, (or many Asian or African countries) is growing up, and especially when they are in trouble, their mother or father may say, “Don’t look at me! I’m talking to you.”
The child is to look at the floor, or their hands, or anywhere but eye-to-eye.
If they were to look at their parents eye-to-eye, it would be taken as defiance.
“Bring it on! Give me your best shot!”
Now—what happens when the two cultural differences collide in the form of a job interview?
An immigrant is interviewing with an American manager.
The manager is asking questions: “What’s your name? Where have you worked?”
Where does the immigrant look?
At the desk. At the floor. At their hands. Anywhere but directly, eye-to-eye, at the manager.
THEY DO THIS TO SHOW RESPECT.
What does the American manager think?
“This person won’t even look me in the eye.
They must be dishonest. They must be lying.”
By painting someone else with our own cultural norms, we introduce our own bias into the mix. We may not even know this is happening.
Addressing a cultural difference like this requires education.
Even better, we can let the two of them explain it to each other. Then it really sinks in.[The text above is an excerpt from my book Beyond Words – A Radically Simple Solution to Unify Communities, Strengthen Businesses, and Connect Cultures Through Language.]
Any BRATS out there? You know – right?
Each Labor Day, I post an image like this one – for my Dad – because I truly appreciate the service that people like my father have given to our country. Like many, I grew up in the military lifestyle. I am a BRAT. I spent my youth travelling from base to base – changing schools – always the new kid. I learned how to talk to anybody – but I learned that it was dangerous to really get attached to anyone – either I, or they, would be leaving soon. There are people from my youth that even Google can’t find. I have no idea where in the world they are… (Pablo… you out there, Man?)
Do I miss it? Yes.
I’m so grateful for the experience that time gave me. Even now – when I cross paths with other brats, we have an instant bond. We don’t come from the same “home town in Iowa”. Our “home town” is the whole world. But we share that.
I tell people that when I turned 18, instead of joining the military, that’s when I left. I say it in a joking manner, but under that is a strong bond with that life. I’m proud of it. Those were the most important formative years of my life. And I wouldn’t change them for anything.
The following is an excerpt from the book Beyond Words, by James Archer…
At The ShareLingo Project, we see a lot of immigrants in our English/Spanish conversation classes. We like to learn more about each other, so we ask what they do, and often we get responses like:
When we hear this, we encourage the people to change their thinking, and to say, “I AM a system’s analyst. I AM a lawyer. I AM a musician.” Moving to this country doesn’t change what they are, any more than me moving to Costa Rica would make me not an engineer.
Unfortunately, being able to WORK in one’s profession is often another matter. (I mentioned this problem in the previous chapter when I spoke about the Spring Institute.) There are far too many professionals here in the U.S. (and, indeed, around the world – have you seen what is happening in Europe?) who are working in very basic jobs, rather than in their professions. I believe that this is a terrible waste of talent.
In one of our ShareLingo classes here in Denver, I met Maria, a systems analyst who came to the United States from Mexico. When Maria moved here, she got a job cleaning hotels.
One day, while making up a room, the guest at the hotel asked Maria for a pillow.
She didn’t know what a pillow was.
But the woman just kept saying, louder and louder, pillow, Pillow, PILLOW!
The closest word Maria had in her vocabulary was “pelo” (hair). So, not knowing what else to do, she brought the guest a hair brush.
That didn’t go well – for Maria, the guest, or the hotel. The woman just yelled at her more.
Clearly, Maria is intelligent, but the guest, because of her frustration, made Maria feel inadequate. Maria said she cried. A lot. She wanted to help that guest. And she didn’t want to lose her job.
It gave her incentive to study hard, learn English, and get out of the hotel and back to her profession.
But for some people, that’s not possible. Simply learning English is not enough.
After ten years living here in the United States, Blanca, a lawyer from Bolivia, still works the deli counter at Target. Blanca’s story is a little different than Maria’s. Like Maria, Blanca has worked hard to learn more English. Her kids, all now grown and living here also, as citizens, are fluent in both English and Spanish, and Blanca was just blessed with her first granddaughter, so she couldn’t be happier in that regard.
But she knows that it is very unlikely she will ever become a lawyer here in the U.S.. Blanca is passionate about lots of causes, but can’t use her talents to address them.
The time and expense needed for her to be able to practice law in this country are just beyond her means. I think it’s a shame she couldn’t find work in the legal field, in spite of the enormous need for trained bilingual lawyers here in our country that understand the problems and can work with the immigrant communities.
Think about it. Suppose you are a doctor, engineer, accountant, systems analyst, nurse, or teacher. Whatever it is, you’re good at it. You’ve invested years getting your education. Now, suppose that, for some reason, you decide (or are compelled) to move to a different country. Maybe it’s to be with family, or for health reasons, or your government is corrupt — whatever the reason, you move. And when you get to your new country, where you have such high hopes, you find that due to lack of language skills, or because your credentials are not recognized, you can’t get a job within your profession.
What would you do? Would you work in a deli? Would you clean hotels or people’s houses?
I am happy that, partly with the help of The ShareLingo Project, Maria and Blanca now speak English and are able to tell these stories.
To put another perspective on this idea, suppose your company hires a $100,000-a-year civil engineer from Chile to do a $20,000-a-year cleaning job. In my mind, that’s an $80,000-a-year waste of talent, not to mention lost productivity and tax revenue.
I hope you will agree that we, as a society, MUST help immigrants learn English, and ALSO give them an affordable path to work within their professions.
Please join the discussion. Comment below, and tell us your story.
Really – there are only two main things to learn a new language:
Foundation and Practice
Simple, right? I’m an Engineer. I like to break things down and simplify them.
Each of these two items has two parts:
The good news is you can do almost all of this alone – on your own. But there is one VERY IMPORTANT part that you need to do with someone else. Keep reading.
First, the foundation.
Vocabulary. You can’t tell someone to run unless you know the word for run. (Correr) You can’t say you have a dog unless you know the word for dog (Perro). You will need to gradually learn new vocabulary.
Grammar. How do you distinguish between I run and I ran? (Corro. Corrí.) How do you say “Green Chili” (Salsa verde) – the noun and adjective are reversed in Spanish. You need to learn these things – but they don’t have to be hard.
Where/How can you improve your foundations? Everywhere! There are hundreds of ways to build vocabulary and learn about grammar in a natural way. That is, by learning what sounds, or looks, right. Books, Youtube, Rosetta Stone. Even leaflets at Lowes or Home Depot or other marketing materials have English and Spanish. Use all of these resources to pick up more vocabulary. As you review these materials, you will pick up grammar aspects automatically. Like: Today I go to the beach. Yesterday I went to the beach. This month, I have gone to the beach three times. (Hoy, voy a la playa. Ayer, fui a la playa. Este mes, he ido a la playa tres veces.)
Next, practice. If you want to learn to swim, you have to get wet.
Listening: Duh – you can’t have a conversation with someone – even to ask their name (Como te llamas), or where they’re from (De donde eres), if you can’t make out the words and accents. To do this, you have to “tune your ear” to the words. This means you have to spend some time just listening – even if you don’t understand what the person is saying, you will begin to make out more and more unique words – that you can then go look up to build your vocabulary! You will also start picking up the grammar aspects from what the speakers are saying. Listen to something for at least 30 minutes twice a day.
Speaking: This is the one area where you need someone else’s help. Let me say that again. You need a real person to help you practice speaking. Practicing in front of a mirror. Or recording your voice and playing it back to yourself doesn’t cut it. For this part, you need to practice with a person. Why? Because you need immediate feedback and positive reinforcement. Say you’re teaching a kid to say hippopotamus or cinnamon. You can’t just go tell them to practice on their own. It’s not like throwing a baseball or dancing. They can’t go practice till they get it right. It’s a back and forth thing. They try to pronounce a word, you help them. They try again, you encourage them.
Where/How can you practice? Again – everywhere! Listen to the radio. Watch TV (with subtitles, if available). Join a meetup group for English/Spanish (or another language). You probably run across native Spanish speakers every day. Guess what. They really want to practice English with you. But they’re not going to ask you. YOU have to connect with THEM. It’s a cultural thing. [If you want an Easy Button, check out The ShareLingo Project which brings native speakers together to help each other.]
Whatever you do – keep it simple. Don’t overthink it. The keys are Desire and Being Consistent. You have to want it. And you have to commit to it.
[Traducción en español debajo – Gracias a Danny Mejia.]
JAMES ARCHER is the founder of The ShareLingo Project – a Social Enterprise that helps people who speak different languages connect and understand each other – both literally (the languages) and culturally. While the program was developed primarily to assist individuals and non-profits (schools, clinics, churches, etc.) it has proven to be a very effective solution within the corporate environment as well.
Prior to founding ShareLingo, JAMES ARCHER was active in many different ventures. He earned a degree in Computer Engineering and his first job out of college was assisting the Canadian and then the Australian military on large computer based training programs. This position took him to Australia, where he joined a conference and exhibition company as a computer programmer (writing, among other things, the world’s first real-time conference delegate registration system). While with this company, James earned his MBA with a focus on international business, and advanced from computer programmer to the Board of Director and became General Manager. During this time, he travelled extensively throughout Australasia to help promote Australian exhibitions to large delegations from countries like China and Vietnam.
Upon his return to the United States, James purchased an art gallery in Breckenridge Colorado, and developed Masterpiece Solutions – the first gallery management software suite capable of integrating online and in-store inventory, images, and meta-data for galleries and antique dealers.
After selling the software business, James invented Silpoura – a silicone kitchen device that aides pouring of almost anything. Of Silpoura, James says, “One can literally pour hot bacon or hamburger grease directly from a skillet into a coke can.”
But it is with ShareLingo that James feels he has found his mission in life.
“Helping people from different cultures connect and understand each other is something our society desperately needs. ShareLingo is working towards world peace – 10 people at a time.”
ShareLingo began when, later in life, James decided to really learn a second language, and selected Spanish. Although he was living in Denver, where there is a very large Spanish speaking community, he found very few resources that helped him connect with people he could practice with. So, as an engineer, he decided to “fix the problem” and ShareLingo came about.
He worked with a local non-profit and brought English and Spanish speakers together. Rather than teaching them, as in a traditional environment, he created a method to help them teach each other. An unplanned, and beautiful, result of the program was seeing the participants really become friends with each other. This program broke down cultural barriers in a way that James had never experienced before.