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.
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.