Call it code-switching, using English and Spanish interchangeably, or language flip-flop, it’s a bear to carry out and made more difficult in the face of vociferous critics.
Those of us who use both languages in parent meetings have had to face serious obstacles. Some educators criticize the use of both languages, confusing bilingual methods used in classrooms with children where the goal is teaching English. The main goal of a parent meeting should be two-way communication…regardless of the languages needed. A methodology for a bilingual classroom is not applicable to a meeting where we want English and Spanish speaking families to come together and connect.
A different but equally stressful reaction is the judgment made on the facilitator when some of the participants in the audience have highly developed language skills in their native language and the presenter is a U.S. reared speaker of the language that uses ‘incorrect grammar’, slang and anglicisms in the presentation. Those of us who grew up bilingually but did not receive much formal instruction in the home language are stronger in our English language skills and would actually prefer to present in English. We will obviously sound more correct, more educated and feel better about ourselves.
Case in point: Once, while conducting a bilingual training-of-trainers, a note was handed to me at the end of the day “For your professional self-improvement” with a listing of all the ‘incorrect” usages in Spanish. The critic was a highly degreed professional from Central America whose English left much to be desired. A less-determined presenter would have given up on the spot. I recalled all the times my Mexican cousins called me a 'pocho': one who speaks an inferior form of Mexican Spanish, and therefore is undeducated and low-class.
Us U.S. bilinguals, born and/or bred here, must take the ego risks involved if we are to bring families together and build connections among families across language and class in support of good education and good schools for all children. I’ve been told that my Spanish is very close to a native-speaker’s. While that might be true and it makes me feel good, the greater pride for me is that I continue to take the risk. My advice to all bilinguals is to take the risk and provide an ongoing translation and keep everyone at the table figuring out what each one is saying. Even when there is translating equipment and individual earphones are providing an ongoing translation to the non-English speakers, there is a separation of the individuals and a focus on the speech of one expert. I’m looking for dialogue, interaction and connection…the lifeblood of democracy.
School meetings, educational gatherings and other school and education related sessions must have good communication and two-way interaction. If there are families present who don’t understand English, it is critical that every effort be made to communicate with them, both to give them information and also listen to them. Any bilingual person present, whether it be the facilitator, a teacher, a student or another parent should be invited to provide ongoing translation of the interactions. The overall goal must be to have families that are informed, listened to and connected to the school community.
Us bilinguals are worth our weight in ‘Statue of Liberty’ marble.