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Language barriers

A study of Mexican American families noted that parent literacy levels impacted their school engagement. Language barriers left them feeling uncomfortable in communicating with teachers, intimated (for example, by the use of educational jargon), and powerless (Peña 2000, p.44). Language barriers often lead to parents feeling like their attendance was unnecessary, and that they lack sufficient knowledge of the language of instruction and the whole education system (Peña 2000; Boethel 2003; Henderson et al. 2002). For example, a study among low-income Mexican American immigrant families in the United States found that despite parents being deeply involved in their children’s learning, Mexican American parents felt that „their lower rate of participation at school was a result of their perceived lack of parental resources (including time), the fear that they have little to offer, and their limited English proficiency” (Birch and Ferrin 2002, p.74). Another study noted that proficiency in the language of school instruction increases several types of parental involvement (Kim 2002).  


Linguistic diversity does not need to be seen as a barrier. In fact, culturally relevant pedagogy is a teaching approach that includes practices, such as encouraging the involvement of families and communities from diverse backgrounds; preparing teachers to handle linguistic and cultural diversity; and increasing proficiency in both first and second languages. As Ladson-Billings (1995) notes, “Culturally relevant teachers utilize students’ culture as a vehicle for learning.” This is vital for minority students, who may differ in the ways they learn and communicate; if school teaching styles do not match their style, they are likely to perform and behave poorly in school (Morgan 2010). One example of culturally relevant pedagogy is translingual pedagogy, which “describes a class of practices with the socially defined goal of leveraging students’ full linguistic repertoires toward specific pedagogical aims” (David, Pacheco & Jiménez 2019). Considering that in most countries, including Hungary, schools have mostly monolingual policies, multilingual learning approaches tend to be rarely incorporated not only in the curricula, but also teaching practices and attitudes.  


In Hungary, a pilot project in the Tiszavasvári school implemented the translingual pedagogy approach, which was described as follows:

“For more than a decade, the school in Tiszavasvári has been attended almost exclusively by Romani-speaking emergent bilingual children…In 2009, the school in Tiszavasvári was taken over from the municipality by a foundation, and in 2019 by the Hungarian Pentecostal Church… The introduction of translanguaging as a pedagogical stance in the schools… was a counter-point to the strong monolingual ideologies…[As translanguaging was implemented] teachers discuss[ed] the benefits of allowing the students to speak their home language variety in everyday school activities…[Practices included active inclusion of Romani, for example reciting Romani poems by Roma authors.]…The class which had started the school year with a translanguaging approach, performed significantly better…The teachers’ new beliefs and attitudes had an impact on extra-curricular activities, which meant that the institutional environment also began to change.” (Heltai et. al. 2022)