News | 28.06.2010

How schools and kindergartens in the US and South Korea combat social exclusion through innovative language schemes

Improving access to language services is a vital component in tackling social exclusion and two new linguistic initiatives in the field of education are proving just how important a factor this is. Bilingual school children in the US are volunteering to translate and interpret in order to bridge the language gap between parents and teachers. Whilst for the many foreign national marriage migrants in South Korea who do not speak Korean as a first language, multilingual programmes in kindergartens involving mothers and children have managed to strengthen the bond between these women and their children.

In the United States, pupils from a high school in North Carolina are involved in voluntary language activities aiming to overcome the language barrier between parents whose first language is not English and the teachers from the school. According to a report by news site WCNC, 37% of the school’s children are Hispanic and many of these children’s parents do not speak fluent English. To tackle this problem, a Translation Club was set up, headed by the Spanish teacher, whereby students volunteer to translate parent notices, brochures and school announcements. Apparently, before the club was founded, many children had to translate these documents at home for their parents who do not speak fluent English.

WCNC do not report on the confidentiality issues involved in this type of volunteer translating, but it does state that the scheme has become extremely popular and has enabled some parents to become more involved in their child’s education. For the pupils involved in the Translation Club, it also adds an extra element to their bilingual skills through learning the processes involved in the art of translation.

Meanwhile in Seoul, South Korea, a scheme has been launched by Library Modoo. It involves migrant mothers and aims to strengthen the bond with their children and improve their integration into South Korean society. estimate that the growing number of marriage migrants rose to 167,000 in 2009, and many of these women are hampered by a language barrier. However, Joongang Daily report that due to the difficulty in accessing language courses, and relatives’ reluctance to allow the children to learn their mother’s native language, many mothers are unable to use their mother tongue to communicate with their children. This has a knock on effect as the children are often ashamed of their mother’s lack of proficiency in the Korean language, and the mother’s themselves become further excluded from society.

Library Modoo offers a library with over 16,000 books written in the various languages spoken by the women known as marriage migrants and a space to pass on this language and cultural knowledge to their children through reading sessions and cultural activities. It is hoped that through these schemes, children will become more interested in learning their mother’s native language and the mothers themselves shall enjoy a better integration into Korean society. The library now contains books from eleven different countries, and the library rules are written in a minimum of five different languages including Arabic, Chinese, English, Korean and Vietnamese.

Furthermore, the library also offers the marriage migrants the chance to write and direct weekly puppet shows that deal with cultural stories from their native country. The language composition of these performances is 80% Korean and 20% of the mother’s native language. The women are responsible for writing and directing the shows, and also selling tickets – an aspect which enables them to carry out income-generating activities and rebuild their self-esteem.

Both schemes have proved popular, and in the case of Modoo library, (Modoo meaning “everybody” in Korean) its popularity is such that a further two schemes have been implemented.

Tackling social exclusion is a process involving more than merely addressing language issues. But building these linguistic bridges is often the first, and vital step in improving the quality of life for all concerned.


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