Bridging the Gap: Reaching Prospective, Non-English Speaking Students

My name is Kehinde Winful, and I am a Community Outreach Intern with the Minnesota Literacy Council this summer.

Last week I went to an outreach event at a local elementary school to share information about free classes for adults. After the event I began thinking of ways in which we can better reach and share information about classes with adults who do not speak English. This blog is a reflection of that thought process. It ends by sharing how volunteers can help us reach prospective, non-English speaking students.

A little girl comes up to the Minnesota Literacy Council booth and starts asking questions, while her mother stands behind her quietly. The little girl asks who we are and we answer. She relays the information back to her mother in Spanish. Suddenly I am aware that the little girl's mother doesn’t speak English. At the event, I am confronted with the harsh realities that children, as young as eight years old, are sometimes the only modes of communication and understanding between the parent and the larger English-speaking community.

How then, do we best reach prospective students if we do not speak their language?

The use of bilingual speakers

From previous experience working with adults learning English, I have heard and seen that adults often feel frustrated, as well as other emotions, with their inability to communicate with others. Having a bilingual speaker at outreach events would help prospective, non-English speaking students feel more comfortable and open to the process of getting information about ABE classes.

Are you bilingual and interested in finding out how you can help or get involved?

The Minnesota Literacy Council is looking for bilingual outreach team volunteers to serve as advocates for literacy and literacy-related volunteerism.

As an outreach team volunteer, you’d attend outreach events, speak with prospective students and volunteers, track inquiries throughout each shift, and communicate any follow-up to staff members.

We’re looking for volunteers who…

  • Can speak Spanish, Somali, or Karen.
  • Have excellent interpersonal skills, and an interest in working directly with people.
  • Are dependable and able to attend volunteer shifts on time.
  • Appreciate diversity in its many forms, including “below the surface” cultural differences such as communication styles, body language and others.
  • Have an awareness of the systemic structures of power and privilege in the United States.
  • Are current or former volunteers at Adult Basic Education or other literacy programs (preferred, but not required).

Time Commitment: Flexible, depending on availability, with an average of 3-8 hours per month. Many outreach activities take place on evenings and weekends.

Location: Multiple locations at community events and festivals across the Twin Cities. 

Volunteers must be 18 years old. Training is provided.

Contact Wendy for more details: wroberts@mnliteracy.org

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