Working Across Language and Culture

Early in my career, I taught English and social studies to students whose first languages spanned the globe. We understood that people learn best in their first language. Their second language acquisition builds off their first language knowledge. And language is nested within culture. Making education or information accessible to diverse audiences involved a curiosity and humility that taught us as much as we might have taught them.

Today, our communities are culturally and linguistically diverse. Our boards are diversifying, and our learning programs are expanding to fully engage people who may not prefer to learn within the dominant language or culture. We have opportunities to be intentional about how we create learning or meeting spaces that include this language and/or cultural diversity.

Over the past few months, over 60 people have been participating in our Design Learning Spaces for Belonging series. Roo Qallaq Ramos invited us to see equity work as an act of joy. Yes! Elizabeth Ralston pushed us to think about the 25% of people who have disabilities. Who are we leaving out if we aren’t making our programs inclusive? On Wednesday, November 16, Danielle Gines and Margaret “Meps” Schulte will share their knowledge, experiences, and tools on how to “Design Learning Spaces for Culture and Knowledge.”

In preparation for this class, Meps sat down with the translator/interpreter we’ve been working with to get his insights. Juven Garcia has simultaneously and asynchronously interpreted learning sessions, translated written materials, and advised us on projects. In this two-minute highlight, Juven shares some lessons learned. (Class participants will receive the full 30-minute video.) Building partnerships like we have with Juven has been a thread throughout the series.

I appreciate Juven’s reminder to think deeply about the people we are trying to reach. I think about this on the personal level—who are these people, and what are their knowledge, skills, and emotions related to this topic. I also think about this on the societal level—using census data to find out who lives within our communities (whether we see them or not), and how engaging them fulfills our mission. A June 2022 report, published in the Daily Yonder, cited a 20% increase in the portion of rural residents who are members of a racial or ethnic minority. Some of these people may have experienced a different first language or culture. They may be on your board, in your classrooms, or otherwise involved in the work you do. How can you be intentional in how you engage them?

We warmly invite you to join us for this final session in our Design Learning Spaces for Belonging Series.

I write this post with gratitude for my own language and culture teachers, most particularly Frau Weigl, Sou Digna women in Brazil, FIUTS international students, and Juven Garcia, who generously shared his insights for this project.

Published by Nancy

I work at the intersection of learning, nonprofits, and leadership. I am a teacher, instructional designer, and nonprofit person who has worn every hat possible. I regular write, speak, and consult on learning strategy, design, and leadership.

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