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Communicating with families who are new to English

Schools and teachers know that good communication with parents is an important part of their job. Establishing communication channels helps teachers to learn more about the children, their history and their home environment, but it also helps parents on learning more about what happens in school and on how they can support the children’s learning at home.

Communication between teachers and families can be hard if there are language barriers, so here are some tips developed by Mother Tongues in collaboration with the School of Education at Trinity College Dublin.

Find out the languages spoken by the children and their parents

Every school should gather information about the languages spoken in the homes of their pupils. This is important because it is common for children to come from homes where two or more languages are spoken. Some of these languages may not be written, or parents may not be literate, so the more information you have the better, because this can inform your actions, especially in an emergency situation.

Know what works best for the hard to reach families

Bilingual families may need updates about school in a language they understand. It is good practice to offer every family a list of key messages about school routines and expectations for the children in a language they understand. Especially when working online it is important to outline expectations and roles in the child’s learning. Translations of common school messages in Albanian, Arabic, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish are available here

Find out the best channels for communicating with each family

This does not mean that you have to constantly use many means of communication, but it can be very helpful to have the information at hand when you find that some parents have not been able to contact you or vice versa. Think about language barriers. Some people might be more comfortable having the time to write a text and would not like to talk on the phone, others might struggle more with writing and would prefer to send an audio message.

Videos and visuals can enhance communication

Communicating with families

Video messages add a personal touch to distance learning and many bilingual families may understand more verbal English than written, so the combination of a warm greeting, demonstration of an activity and simple language to explain tasks —in a format that they can watch multiple times or review —will be very helpful for them. If you have access to an interpreter or a cultural liaison or ambassador, you can record messages. If you don’t have access to human resources, there are apps and other ways to translate materials.

Dr Francesca La Morgia

This flyer was produced as part of a collaboration between Mother Tongues, Trinity College Dublin and Learnovate.