In homes across the United States, thousands of children and young adults take on the role of informal interpreters for family members who don’t speak English. While many may initially find pride in being of service to their families, experts raise concerns about the potential long-term effects on these young language brokers.
NPR wrote on article on the kids of Latino Immigrants in Kansas City and their experience as their families personal interpreters. Ashlee Zoe Cruz Ayala, an 18-year-old senior at Shawnee Mission North, and David Gabaldon, now a 24-year-old admissions recruiter, shared their experiences balancing school, life, work, and being their families’ only source to fluent communication with their surrounding community.
These stories shed light on the prevalence of language brokering within immigrant families, where more than 50% of children living in immigrant families have at least one parent struggling with English. Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandating access to interpretation services for those with limited English skills, shortages of qualified interpreters often force families to rely on their children, who have greater exposure to English.
While some young interpreters, like Ashlee and David, may express pride in their ability to help their families, the long-term consequences remain a cause for concern. Research suggests that language brokering can lead to increased anxiety, decreased academic achievement, and strained relationships, particularly in high-stakes situations such as medical appointments.
The need for professional interpreters is undeniable, yet shortages persist across various industries. Organizations often struggle to provide access to interpretation services due to a lack of qualified professionals. As a result, families are left with limited options, placing undue pressure on their children to fulfill this vital role.
Access to professional interpreters is not only a matter of legality but also one of ethics and quality of care. Interpreting services agencies offer a solution by providing access to certified and experienced interpreters, ensuring accurate and culturally sensitive interpretation in diverse settings. Partnering with agencies also offers flexibility in timing and pricing, alleviating logistical burdens for organizations and families alike.
As we advocate for widespread access to professional interpreters, it’s imperative to recognize the hidden stressors faced by non-english proficient families in the U.S. and the importance of safeguarding their well-being. By investing in quality interpretation services and increasing access, we can ensure equitable access to essential services while protecting the mental health and academic success of our youth.
In conclusion, the need for professional interpreters extends beyond legal mandates—it’s a matter of dignity, respect, and quality of care for all individuals, regardless of language proficiency. Let’s work together to ensure that no child or young adult bears the burden of interpretation alone and that access to quality interpretation services remains a fundamental right for all.