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Basic Introductory Activities

These activities are designed to introduce students to the construct of “language brokering” or everyday translation/interpretation: to see and value what they already know about this practice, and to generate a list of their experiences as language brokers that can serve as resources for learning.

Introduce the Construct of Language Brokering

Introduce the construct of language brokering with any of the following cultural data sets and have students discuss what they understand about language brokering based on these items and/or their own experiences.

Journal Entries

Journal entries written by other youth about their experiences as language brokers. You might choose a variety of samples representing different kinds of situations, and/or written by children that are more or less the same age as your students. When you click on the names, you will find the original journal entries along with questions for discussion with students.

  • Samy, age 15 (interpreting in public spaces)
  • María, age 10  (helping her mother with her ESL homework – reading and writing stories)
  • Brianna, age 12 (helping her mother to choose a birthday card for her father)
  • Miguel, age 11 (going with his father to return an item to a store)

Language Brokering Event Video

Video clip of “Vin Vin” (self-selected pseudonym) working with his father to fill out an English form. This is a common kind of language brokering activity, in which children help their parents to fill out forms. As we see in the video clip, language brokering may not involve direct forms of translation/interpretation, but more of a pooling of linguistic resources. In the video we see a father and son work together to decipher and respond to a series of questions on a form that was required by the school for participation in a field trip.

For further resources, see this additional Audio Commentary on video clips from Ms. Reyes' Class and Vin Vin's Language Brokering Event.

Language Brokering Examples from Popular Culture

This is a brief episode showing the young protagonist speaking for his adult companion as they try to find a job to help them get to California. The actual language brokering event is not shown in the film, but we see the young child brokering a deal for himself and his adult companion.

Chapter 3 shows a child serving as a language broker at a restaurant with her mother.
Chapter 13 shows the child serving as language broker between her mother and her mother’s employer. This is a highly “dramatized” version of language brokering. The girl in the film provides a more or less literal translation of what her mother says, complete with gestures and body language. The children we observed more typically acted in more reserved ways that were appropriate to their positions as children talking to and for adults. You might discuss with students how this scene accords with their own experiences.

  • Picture books (for younger children):
  1. Pepita Talks Twice/Pepita Habla Dos Veces by Ofelia Dumas Lachtman, Illustrated by Alex Pardo Delange
  2. I Speak English for my Mom by Muriel Stanek, Illustrated by Judith Friedman
  3. The Cow That Went OINK written and illustrated by Bernard Most
  • News Coverage

Injured bilingual 4th grader, Oscar Rodriguez considered a hero in Arizona for translating for firefighters and paramedics after a deadly bus crash.

Additional resources and Ideas

  • We invite you to share and post other resources you used as cultural data sets in your classroom. This could include examples of language brokering in literature, movies, newspaper articles, or popular culture. To share with other educators, sign up as a member for our wiki and log in.
  • Share personal experiences (Listening & Speaking 1.0; 1.8). Invite students to talk about their own experiences similar to these. Students may work individually or in small groups using this handout to analyze their experiences in terms of who was there, what was being translated, where this took place, and the feelings that were expressed. Students may then share out and the teacher can create a class chart modeled on the handout, summarizing all of the experiences that student’s name. Additional questions to guide the discussion could include:
  1. How does the setting influence how you feel about language brokering? Think especially about the difference between public and private settings.
  2. How can the participants make translating/interpreting easier or harder? Is it easier to translate for some people than for others? Why or why not?
  3. What kinds of tasks are easier/harder to translate? What makes them hard? How do you handle the challenges?
  • Define the term (Reading 1.0). Ask students what they might call this activity. See if they offer a label for the practice, such as translating or interpreting. However, they may not have a name for the practice; they may just see it as something they do for their parents (“I speak English for my mom.”) Introduce the term “language brokering” and ask students to brainstorm a definition. Students may share these definitions and the teacher can help to construct a group definition. Compare this with the definition offered by Orellana (2009): the many ways in which children of immigrants “use their knowledge of two languages to speak, read, write, listen and do things for others,” and with the dictionary definitions for translating and interpreting.



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