Unmasking the Fears of Communicating with EL Parents

Andrea BitnerBlog, Connect Better, Differentiate Better, Engage Better, Manage Better

One of my former students with her parents at graduation.


  • أهلا بك…欢迎…bienvenido….welcome!
  • We can empower ourselves and improve relationships by taking action to empower our EL parents.
  • Learn the preferred language spoken at home for EL parents.
  • Below are three great translation resources you can access to help communicate with EL parents rather than asking a family friend or sibling to help communicate.

“Andrea, you HAVE to be at Manny’s conference.  His parents don’t speak any English and I have no idea how to communicate with them!  I tried asking if they can bring a friend to translate, or if his older bilingual high school sister Ivana can come instead, but I haven’t received any responses and I don’t know if anyone is coming.  Can you believe that?  Why hasn’t anyone responded? Do you speak Arabic?  What am I going to do?”

Unmasking the fears of how to effectively communicate with English Language Learners’ families is a common feeling of angst that I often assist in diminishing on a monthly basis.  I am honored to have the banner of “Never Fear, Andrea is Here!”  Yet after twenty-one years of teaching in this field, I am always most honored when our teams of teachers feel confidently equipped to operate a communication plan independently.  Why?  Our EL students and families deserve it.  They are the root to everything we need to learn about our kids, and investing in them will bear more fruit for us to pick from when planning our instruction.  I hope that the tips below provide you with the tools you need to do just that!

Unmasking the Fears of Communicating with EL Parents: How do we effectively communicate with our EL Families?  

Determine what language preference their parents prefer.  You can do that by checking with your EL teacher, emailing your student’s parent, or checking your district Home Language Survey!  This form is part of a student’s registration packet.  Some parents will prefer English, some will prefer another language, and some may prefer both.  It’s important to assume nothing and ask.

Invest the time in setting up a meeting where the most communication can occur, and deliver an experience where our EL parents can share and learn the most with you! Click To Tweet

Check Out this Amazing Conference Resource!

Use Interpretalk for phone conferencing.  Interpretalk is a wonderful conference support service that provides LIVE interpreters, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Over 168 languages are available!  It has been a game-changer for our teams.  Ask your district about it.

Unmasking the Fears of Communicating with EL Parents: Have you heard of these EL parent communication technology tools?

  • Try “Talking Points” to make school to home connections!  Talking Points is a FREE, website-based service that provides the opportunity for you to text parents directly to their phones.  You type in English, choose the language you need, and it sends the message to the parent’s phone in their preferred language.  When the parent responds, the message is in English.  It’s really that easy!
  • Check out the website for TRANSACT!  TRANSACT provides education documents that are officially translated for parents in a variety of languages.  Every form under the education sun is there for you to peruse and use, from field trips to truancy to free and reduced lunch…it is worth the view!

Unmasking the Fears of Communicating with EL Parents: Shouldn’t we just ask the parents to bring a friend or use a sibling to translate?

With all of the resources listed above, I would say that utilizing a friend or sibling to translate is the most disempowering environment we can provide for our parents who are learning English.  Imagine attending a conference for one of your children, and asking one of their siblings to attend alongside you.  To speak for you, ask questions for you, react for you, and parent with you.

Visualize them hearing and discussing their brother’s academic weaknesses, strengths, medication information, hopes for the future, and any past traumas that may have occurred for him.  Picture how your child may feel, knowing his siblings are participating in a conversation that is specifically earmarked for adults.  Arranging an environment like this for conferences surrenders all parental power.

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Unmasking the Fears of Communicating with EL Parents: Our EL parents and students are counting on us.

Please don’t remove the potential for information that can be offered by our EL parents.  Invest the time in setting up a meeting where the most communication can occur, and deliver an experience where our EL parents can share and learn the most with you!

Siblings and friends should never be used as a primary line of communication in any form when connecting and collaborating with our EL parents.  You are NOT alone!  Team up with your EL teacher and use the resources available to create an environment where everyone wins.  I look forward to hearing about your successes as you travel into the conference days ahead!

See the full blog series here!

About Andrea Bitner

Andrea Bitner is a proud wife and mother of two beautiful daughters. She lives on the East Coast among some of the fastest speaking people in the country! She has worked with students in grades K-12 through her twenty years in public education from all around the world. Her work as an English Language Teacher, Reading Specialist, Literacy Coach, Presenter, and High School English Teacher inspired her to continue to share the great news: Learning a Second Language is an asset, not a handicap! She hopes to inform, influence, and inspire all readers and leaders to continue to be a champion for all stakeholders in the education community around the world.