When There is No Common Language with the Parent

Epstein Family Photos

Last night we had a Parent – Teacher Night for the parents of the new 10th graders. Their children were not invited. The idea is for the parents to have an opportunity to meet and chat with all the teachers that teach their children before the official Parents Night , that fateful evening when grades, behavior and other weighty issues are discussed.

One of the parents came with her son in 7th grade, as her interpreter. She doesn’t speak any of the languages known by any of the staff members.

It’s a tricky situation. I made a point of speaking directly to the mother, making eye contact with her, then waiting for the son to translate. I’m well aware that one is supposed to engage with the person, not the imterpreter. However, in this case, the interpreter wasn’t a paid proffesional, but a child. I didn’t really engage with the son at all. I think that may have been respectful of the mother but I’m not sure about the son.. He was obviously well practiced playing this role. He was very patient too.

I tried hard to focus on the good things I was saying about her truly¬† brilliant child and not be judgemental. I admit that it is difficult to ignore the fact that the parent has been in the country for approximately 10 years and still doesn’t speak a word of the language. I guess that just highlights how talented her child is, to reach such academic achievements. I know her life is very difficult and there probably haven’t been many opportunities.

Nonetheless, it is an awkward situation.


4 thoughts on “When There is No Common Language with the Parent”

  1. Thankfully, I have no interaction with the English-less parents of my students. It is forbidden at our university.

    What a tricky situation that must be for you. I surmised half-way through that the interpreter son (hopefully) was not the son you teach. How awkward would that be! I think you must have done everything textbook for communication. Wow, that she is unable to communicate in the least. You’d think then that she’d send a guardian who could.

    1. Tyson,
      I would imagine that at the university level teachers don’t deal with parents any more!
      It is an awkward situation. Its a well known issue in immigrant families – how having the children act as interpreters affect the relationship within families. It is also a common situation with deaf families who have a hearing child. Our staff doesn’t have the latter situation because we use sign language. However, I’ve heard stories. Deaf people are allocated by the state a certain amount of free hours of interpreting. I know of deaf parents who decided being summoned to the principal’s office of thier child’s school (not ours, remember!) wasn’t reason enough to bring in an interepreter and they brought in the child to translate. You can imagine the translation was heavily censored!

  2. I wish parents gave as much thought to their children’s education as they do to laying blame about it, for example.

    I’m curious, where do immigrants typically come from in Israel?

  3. Tyson,
    oh, you name it! Whatever country you can name (O.k, less from Eastern Asia but that exists too)! Different periods of time had people coming form different countries of course. Don’t forget that as a modern state we are only 63 years old. Many immigrants of recent years are from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.
    You might enjoy peeking at David’s blog:
    Why I May Still Be Canadian

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