Child language brokering at school

This study explored the use of child language brokering in school settings and has developed a Guide to Good Practice as well as a final research report.

Because the children of immigrants often learn the host language much more quickly than their parents, increasing numbers of children contribute to family life by acting as language brokers (or interpreters) for their parents. There is often resistance to the use of children in this role in sensitive or challenging meetings, but for some purposes many immigrant parents and grandparents prefer a language broker from within their own family to an external professional interpreter.

The researchers investigated the perspectives of 63 teachers in schools in multilingual areas and 25 young adults who had acted as language brokers while at school. All of the participants answered an online survey, and some then took part in a more in-depth interview study.

The researchers focused on the frequency and purposes of child language brokering in schools during routine contacts with parents, more sensitive discussions about vulnerable pupils, and discussions when crucial matters are being resolved. They analysed perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of existing arrangements and the alignment of child language brokers with family or personal interests. They encouraged former child language brokers to review their experience of the process and how it was facilitated or obstructed by the actions and attitudes of their teachers.

The study aims to provide an evidence base for more sensitive and effective practice and more carefully articulated school policies. The researchers also hope to lay the basis for further work on theorising the social and cultural significance of child language brokering, building on their earlier work in this field.