Language Brokering within Latino Immigrant Families: Outcomes and Opportunities

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International and Area Studies | Latin American Studies | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Bruce Campbell, Hispanic Studies


Language brokering is defined as the practice in which children of first-generation immigrants act as linguistic and cultural intermediaries for their parents, assisting them by translating and interpreting in a variety of context. This study examined the nature of language brokering in Latino immigrant families in terms of educational and developmental effects, cultural dimensions, and the relationship between outcomes of language brokering and bilingual education.

The study also examined the prevalence and nature of language brokering within Latino immigrant families living in Central Minnesota. Sixteen individuals were interviewed in matched pairs (8 parents, 8 children) using an ethnographic approach to assess the prevalence of language brokering in various contexts and participants' feelings toward the practice.

Parents identified positive educational and developmental effects of language brokering on their children, and participant responses supported the hypothesis that collectivist family values contribute to the experience of language brokering. Participants did not identify specific ways that language brokering impacted their childrens' cultural identity beyond language maintenance. Parents expressed a great deal of pride at their childrens' bilingual abilities and expressed support of educational initiatives that would help their children to maintain and improve their bilingual abilities.

Results of this study were used to analyze potential social implications of language brokering in terms of cultural and ethnic integration, bilingual education, and national policy. Results of the study demonstrate that children who language broker contribute to society in a variety of ways. It is essential that their contributions be recognized and skills developed as we move toward an increasingly diverse, multicultural society.