Engaging with Non-English-Speaking Parents

Engaging with Non-English Speaking Parents

Reaching out and engaging with non-English speaking parents can be really difficult for teachers. If you have pupils who have English as an additional language (EAL), their parents may have a limited understanding of English. If you have an interpreter, it can be much easier to communicate efficiently, but if not try some of our strategies, tips, and guidance to help you engage with non-English speaking parents.

Whether you’re a school leader looking for guidance to give to your staff, or a class teacher seeking strategies that you can put into action right now, our advice and tips will help you to improve your engagement with non-English speaking parents. 

parent reading story with child.
Parent reading story with a child.

Parents’ evenings can also be extremely tricky if you aren’t sure how to communicate with non-English speaking parents. If you’re planning your parents’ evening, make sure to have a blank piece of paper on the table at all times. You should encourage the parents to use the paper if they need to, so they can write things down. This will help them and give them something they can take away. Even people that can understand English won’t be able to remember everything you have said, so writing little things down, will help them to remember what has been discussed. You should also be prepared to have little response from the parents. They may not be able to formulate a response and may nod instead. 

Change The Way You Communicate:

Changing the way you speak can sound daunting and difficult, but it can make a huge difference. It’s also very easy to do, simply follow these bullet points below. 

  • Speak less. You can try removing any redundant words or phrases that you don’t need. This will help you to keep your speech, short and to the point. 
  • Pause. Make sure you give the parents and carers time to understand what you are saying. You could say a few things at a time and make sure you don’t speak too fast!
  • If they are struggling with knowing when one word starts and the next finishes, then you could try to exaggerate gaps and pause between each spoken word. 
  • No acronyms! We often use acronyms when we speak or write, for example ‘KS1.’ Make sure to take these acronyms out or replace them with words. 
  • Plan what you’re going to say. Speaking this way can be really challenging and will take a lot of time to master. You may have to practice, and plan what you are going to say and take unnecessary phrases or words out. 

Improving your Non-Verbal Cues:

If you are trying to communicate with a non-English speaking parent, non-verbal cues are very important; if you don’t share a language non-verbal cues are even more important. Your facial expressions and body language will play a key part in helping the parents or carers to understand what you are saying. This means that you should try to become more aware of your facial expressions. Try to ensure that you are communicating with non-English speaking parents face-to-face. That way the parents can see your body language and facial cues, which will help them to understand. 

child doing school work.
Child doing school work.

What Tips and Guidance Can I Give to Non-English Speaking Parents, so That They Can Help Their Child at Home? 

If your pupil is struggling with a particular area or skill, normally you would talk to the parent about this to see if they can help at home. This is much more difficult if the child’s parents don’t speak English, but we have some tips you can use to help with communication barriers. 

  • Parents’ evening is a great place to start as it can help to improve the parents’ understanding of the English language. This type of conversational interaction will help them to pick up phrases. You could also use some of the child’s work and use facial expressions and gestures to show that you are pleased with how their child is working.

  • However, if there are things that their child is finding difficult, such as reading, you could encourage them to listen to their child reading every night. Even if they can’t speak or understand English themselves, they can encourage and motivate their child to read at home. This will help their child to learn new vocabulary and practice saying words out loud, but it will also help the parent to learn and understand English.

  • If their child is struggling with completing homework, you could encourage an older sibling or relative proficient in English to sit with them and help them with their homework. If there isn’t anyone available to help, you could plan a time every day that the child will complete homework for 30 minutes. Another option could be a school club to help with homework.

  • Remember, if you are trying to make a suggestion to help their child progress in school, make sure to think of an idea or solution that is as specific as possible. This will make it easier for you to explain and for the parent to understand.

  • Another helpful way to explain and get your point across is to show the parent how to do something. For example, you could show them how to write in their child’s homework diary if they completed their homework. Showing them how to do something will be an efficient way of communicating with them, as they can see what you are doing and don’t need to focus on your speech to understand. This will also work with maths problems or maths homework. You could show the parents how to solve a maths problem so that they can help their child with maths homework. 
parent reading story book with young child.
Parent reading storybook with a young child.

Strategies That You Can Use to Connect and Improve Communication with Non-English Speaking Parents:

  1. Listen. Listening and taking the time to learn about the families’ culture, religion, and heritage is really important. Ask questions about their language too. Try not to make assumptions about anything either.

  2. Don’t be afraid to use the technology available to you. If you are really struggling to understand a parent or carer try using Google Translate or another language tool to help you.

  3. Try to use standard English at all times — don’t use idioms, slang or analogies, because they might not understand these.

  4. Have a friendly attitude! Having a friendly attitude and appearing welcoming, caring and compassionate has no barriers. A friendly welcoming will express much more than words.

  5. Aim to stay connected throughout the school year. This is particularly important for non-English speaking parents, because if you stay in touch with them all year long then you will be able to build a relationship. This will help to benefit the student in the classroom, as well as learning at home.

  6. Don’t make assumptions. Most likely the parents will just want their child to do well in school and progress but may have a hard time expressing this or helping their child. Remember to keep an open mind and try to be as helpful and understanding as possible.

  7. Make sure you ask what the parent’s language preference is — don’t just assume! If they preferred to speak in their first language you could try to find a translator, but if they would prefer that you spoke in English as you would in school, do that!

  8. Make yourself as visible as possible — in other words, you should introduce yourself and greet the pupil’s parents at the start of the school year. A smile and a greeting in the family’s native language would go a long way.

  9. If the child is bilingual and is comfortable doing so, they might like to translate things to their parents. For example, if there is a school trip coming up they can tell their parents too. However, you should be mindful that this wouldn’t be suitable for very young children.

  10. You may need to send home extra resources, such as permission slips for activities in the classroom, or flyers with details about an upcoming school trip. The student can help translate these to their parents too.

  11. Always begin with positives when communicating with a parent that speaks little or minimal English. You will build up trust by starting with their child’s strengths.

  12. You may need to schedule extra meetings when the child’s parents can come into school and have a discussion with you, or a phone call. If a child’s parents don’t speak English, you may need to meet up to discuss their child’s progress more than just once a year at parent’s evenings. You could also set a time and date each month when you can discuss the child’s progress. This will help to improve communication and engagement with the parents because they can find out what they need to practice at home.

  13. Another tip for parents’ evenings is to ask if the child has another relative who is fluent in English who could attend meetings with them, to take the pressure off the parent/carer.
parent supervising child on computer.
Parent supervising child on computer.

How You Can Use Learning Ladders’ Tools to Engage with Non-English Speaking Parents: 

You can use our resources and tools in a number of ways to improve communication with non-English speaking parents.  

  • For teachers, you can view data to help you plan your lessons according to your pupils’ weaknesses and areas they need to improve. You can also use our tools to communicate with parents and other teachers.

  • Our tools help parents view their child’s progress on a regular basis, and you can see how they are performing in particular areas. You can get access to teacher-written content in over 100 languages, removing language barriers, and helping you support your child’s learning at home.

  • Children also have access to our tools, so that they can take ownership of their learning, with our Learning Journal Booklets. These facilitate conversations about their learning, achievements and progression, benefitting home learning progress. 

Parental involvement in learning is the single greatest influential factor in children’s success at school. But it can also be incredibly time-consuming. Our tools allow you to combat time restrictions and improve communication between teachers, parents and pupils. 

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