Breaking barriers for multilingual families

For St Peter’s Catholic Primary School (VIC), prolonged periods of Covid lockdown added to their existing challenge of engaging culturally and linguistically diverse families in their children’s learning.

The school partnered with a local school facing the same challenge (St Bernadette’s Catholic Primary School), to improve communication with multilingual families.

A Student Research Group (SRG) was formed where student researchers interviewed children about communicating with their families. Zeya, Year 5, shared her difficulties of talking with her parents who spoke Burmese and three other languages but had limited English; Zeya was only fluent in English. Recognising parents needed support to communicate with their children, the SRG developed tools for them – a podcast, video, and posters. A parent said: “The students provided some really practical suggestions that are easily taken on board.” Student researchers also gained valuable skills and one said: “I have more confidence in speaking in person and to an online audience. I also know how to interview and do some data analysis.”

Parent-teacher interviews were also held with the support of an interpreter, which shed light on how multilingual families are affected by systemic barriers at school and that Burmese families were the most marginalised group. A Burmese Bicultural Worker was then employed to work with Burmese families to support their specific communication needs.

By taking time to listen to children and parents, the schools have a better understanding of complex language issues within multilingual families which has led to a targeted response and the schools’ decision to continue to employ the Bicultural Worker.

*The story uses a fictional student name