Working with Bilingual Parent Volunteers

Working with Bilingual Parent Volunteers

by Judie Haynes

Develop a resource of parents who can help translate, interpret, and communicate

Envisage a classroom where you have bilingual parent helpers for each of your non-English speakers! Imagine that your school has a resource of parents who can help translate, interpret, and communicate. This dream can become a reality if you begin a "Bilingual Parent Volunteers" program. Bilingual parent volunteers are school and community members who speak the languages of your ESL/bilingual population. They are a wonderful asset to classroom and ESL teachers. Starting this program is work. But in the end, your school will reap the benefits in years to come.

Start a bilingual volunteer program

Bilingual parent volunteers can work in the mainstream classroom with all first- year ESL students. Start by recruiting a few approachable parents. They do not have to be parents whose children are in ESL. In fact, more established bilingual parents will probably be more able to help. Ask them to help a new second language learner in the mainstream classroom for an hour a few times a week. Arrange for the volunteer and the classroom teacher to meet and set a time convenient for both. Once your have a few volunteers working with students successfully, the word will spread.

Invite parents who are limited English speakers to help also. These parents can be an extra pair of hands in a large class. They can help with special projects, make photocopies of work, put up bulletin boards and complete other jobs.

Train bilingual parent volunteers

Consider training your parent volunteers. It is worth the time. An administrator, ESL, or bilingual teachers would be obvious choice to train them. Classroom teachers need to be prepared for the volunteers. Set up a schedule so that the classroom teacher knows when a volunteer is coming. He/she should identify specific tasks they want done. Provide the volunteer with interesting and varied materials to use with the newcomers. Give the volunteer concrete feedback during the first few sessions. If you want them to use positive rather than negative reinforcers, for example, let him or her know right away. If it is too distracting to have the volunteer work in your classroom find a quiet place for the pair to work. Teachers of students in grades 4 and up should ask that volunteers work outside the classroom; newcomers at this age are very self-conscious about receiving extra help. Be sure the volunteer knows what to do in the event of a fire drill.

Everyone gains

Everyone gains from the participation of bilingual parent volunteers in a school. The school benefits from an increase in the quality of communications with the parents of their language-minority population. The classroom teacher gets extra help with her new students. The mainstream students benefit from the cultural input of the bilingual parents. Newcomers benefit both socially and academically, and their parents are relieved of much anxiety about their children. Bilingual volunteers have stated that they benefit from a growth of self-esteem and pride in their culture. They feel more comfortable in the school and often develop friendships with the teachers they help.

Bilingual parent volunteers can help:

Second language parents can also help your school put on a multicultural day where they teach students about their cultures. Of course, parentscan also go into individual classrooms on special occasions at the invitation of the classroom teachers.


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