Offering Families a Language Choice During Home Visits

One of the most important aspects of working as a home-visitor is to respect every family’s beliefs and traditions. In this article, program personnel responsible for hiring will recognize that communicating in the parents’ language enhances staff relationship building. It also describes how home-visitors empower families to navigate the largely English-speaking world around them.

The following is an excerpt from...
Head Start Bulletin

Offering Families a Language Choice During Home Visits

by Bulletin Staff with Erica Quezada, Swat I. Mukherjea, and Patricia Molina

In order to meet the needs of the linguistically diverse populations in their Head Start programs, the Children’s Aid Society in New York City and The Rosemount Center in Washington, D.C. offer home-visiting services in languages other than English.

The Children’s Aid Society is located in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, and the staff is representative of this population. Many of the families are recent immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries. Erica Quezada is a former home-visitor and current Educational Director at the agency’s Early Head Start program. She reports that about 95% of the families in the home-visiting program choose to have their home visits conducted in Spanish. The other 5% speak English as their first language.

Being able to communicate in Spanish has made it easier for Ms. Quezada to connect with the children and families in the program. "It’s not about language; it’s about learning and building relationships," she remarks. Parents feel much safer and more comfortable communicating in their preferred language; as a result, the program is more effective in its delivery of services.

Swati Mukherjea and Patricia Molina are home-visitors at The Rosemount Center, which offers Early center-based services. Ms. Mukherjea is a native of India who speaks Bengali, Hindi, and a bit of Spanish. Ms. Molina, who is from Chile, works with the Hispanic community. The families they work with are primarily Hispanic, but others are from Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Pakistan. Ms. Mukherjea works with primarily Head Start children, while Ms. Molina works with Early Head Start children.

They agree that one of the most important aspects of working as a home-visitor is to respect every family’s beliefs and traditions. "Because we go into their houses, we need to be really sensitive to their cultures and myths," Ms. Molina notes. Speaking a family’s preferred language in their home is one way of showing sensitivity and respect.

The majority of the families at Rosemount prefer a mix of languages: the home-visitor might speak to the parents in Bengali, but sing songs with the child in English. Head Start families want their children to learn and be comfortable with the English language because they will use English when they are in elementary school. Ms. Mukherjea finds that, "Parents are very conscious of literacy and want their child to have the necessary basic skills to succeed in school."

The Rosemount Center offers literacy resources and support for parents who want to learn English and is currently seeking a formal partnership with the American Library Association. The home-visitors often provide invaluable services such as translating the family’s mail or helping family members fill out job applications.

These home-visiting programs in New York and the District of Columbia receive positive feedback from parents for their innovative approaches and bilingual and multilingual staff capabilities. As Ms. Quezada notes, home-visitors empower these families to navigate the largely English-speaking world around them "by enhancing parents’ abilities to contribute to the positive development of their children, providing resources, and helping them with the challenges of daily life."

Research (Gutiérrez-Clellen & Kreiter 2003) indicates that the amount of input, frequency of use, and the parents' estimates of their child's language ability highly relate to the child's level of proficiency in the language.

Excerpt from Vera Gutiérrez-Clellen, Assessment of English Language Learners: Challenges and Strategies

Written by Bulletin staff based on interviews with the home visitors.

"Offering Families a Language Choice During Home Visits." English Language Learners. Head Start Bulletin #78. HHS/ACF/OHS/ACYF/HSB. 2005. English.

Last Reviewed: September 2009

Last Updated: April 10, 2015