In the final blog of her series Creating Inclusive Spaces, Dr. Lea Ann Christenson offers practical tips for creating communications plans educators can use to engage with the families of the Dual Language Learners in their care.
As you prepare for the new school year and find that one or more young children on your roster are learning English as a second language you may be wondering . . . How can I communicate with the families of young DLLs?
This blog post will provide you with some tips for creating a communication plan to serve families of young DLLs. This communication plan will assist families of EOs as well.
Create a welcoming and empathetic environment.
If you have the opportunity to meet safely with families in person, make sure you have a sincere smile on your face and physically welcome the families into your classroom. A warm human connection from the start goes a long way in establishing positive communication.
Put yourself in their shoes.
Have you ever been in a new situation that caused you to be anxious? What about the situation eventually made you feel welcome? Or, sadly, what made you continue to feel anxious? Use that information to make sure that you and your classroom are inviting places.
Learn a few phrases in the language(s) of your children.
In a perfect world, you would learn the L1 of the children and families in your setting. That is impractical because it would take you about 5 years to have the native-like fluency of an L2 (second language) necessary to communicate with families. And . . . not all DLLs in your class will have the same L1. Even though you may have taken Spanish or Chinese in high school, you probably have the basic fluency to chat about the weather, but not the academic fluency necessary to communicate with families about how their children are doing in school.
That being said, make sure you do learn a few phrases in the language(s) of your children and families. This models that you value the language(s) they speak and you are modeling the vulnerability and courage it takes to learn and speak a new language.
Translate written and oral communication.
Well then, what can you do to communicate?
First of all you will need to translate written and oral communication. Hopefully, your center or school has access to translators for oral conversations. The resources in the neighborhood like religious organizations may be able to provide translation. If at all possible, avoid having the child or older sibling translate for the family. This sets up challenging power dynamic in the family. New oral translation apps like iTranslate Voice can help you out as well and are better than not having any translation at all.
Written communication is a bit easier. Translate everything. Your website, emails, announcements from the school, etc. If your setting does not have official translators once again "there is an app for that." Worst case scenario, use Google translate and add a disclaimer stating that is how you did the translation and that there may be errors.
Do not rely on one mode of communication, use a multiple modalities, layered approach. E-mail, texts, class dojo, phone calls, and—do not forget—old-fashioned paper newsletters sent home on a routine day and time will get your important messages across to busy families.
Focus on two-way communication.
Provide opportunities for the families to communicate with you in writing and orally. Once again, you will need to secure translators and/or translation apps to assist you. The extra effort will be worth it as the families will feel comfortable reaching out to you to ask questions. As we discussed last time, make sure you explain procedures and customs in your setting so families know exactly what is expected of them. All parents care about their children and are eager to assist when they know what is expected. In turn, learn what you can about their customs so you can effectively support their children in the classroom.
Remember the Golden Rule for communicating with all parents: your first encounter should be a positive one where you show care, concern and positive encounters with and achievements of their child. Your first encounter should not be to share something negative about their child. Establish a positive relationship first and then share concerns in a way which you can have the parents help you support their child for a successful experience.
So . . .
What will be your communication plan? What resources are available in your setting? What will you need to augment? Who can you ask for help?
Best of luck to you as you take the proactive steps to set your young DLLs and their families up for a successful school year!
About the Author
Lea Ann Christenson, PhD, is an associate professor in the department of early childhood education at Towson State University. She earned her PhD in curriculum and instruction from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her work focuses on early literacy acquisition, English as a second language instruction, and STEAM teaching and learning. She is also the author of Strength in Diversity: A Positive Approach to Teaching Dual-Language Learners in Early Childhood.