JNCL-NCLIS Insights: Language at the Intersection
About the Episode:
JNCL-NCLIS is proud to introduce the eleventh episode of our Language at the Intersection Insights Interview series. In this episode, we are joined by Ana Soler, Chairperson at the National Association of Educational Translators and Interpreters of Spoken Languages (NAETISL), who will help us explore the intersection of language and access, and how multilingualism moves her world.
The transcript for the episode can be found below.
Amanda Seewald (00:09): Hello, and welcome to the "JNCL-NCLIS Language at the Intersection Insights" Interview Series, where we talk with professionals from many fields to hear their perspectives on how multilingualism moves our world. The Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Language and International Studies proudly presents this series with generous sponsorship support from Vista Higher Learning. I'm Amanda Seewald, current president of the Joint National Committee for Languages and National Council for Language and International Studies, JNCL-NCLIS. And I am joined today by our president-elect Linda Egnatz to introduce you to Ana Soler, a chairperson at National Association of Educational Translators and Interpreters of Spoken Languages, who will help us explore the intersection of language and access, and how multilingualism moves her world. Linda Egnatz (01:08): And we'll go ahead and start with that first question. So would you introduce yourself and your organization and just share where your language intersection is? Ana Soler (01:18): Sure. So my name is Ana Soler and I'm the chairperson of NAETISL which is the national association of educational translators and interpreters of spoken languages. And my language intersection is language and disability. Linda Egnatz (01:32): Wonderful. Could you explain a little bit more about what that piece means to you that, that intersection and how that operates or functions in your, in your work? Ana Soler (01:42): Absolutely. So I remember the exact moment when I decided to really devote my life and my professional personal life and my bilingual skills to support language, access and language justice for families of children with disabilities. I was translating a special education document from English to Spanish. So I'm, I'm a Spanish speaker. I was born in Colombia, very proud of that. The document was an annual progress report or what they call an individualized education plan, which usually contains quite a bit of high register vocabulary in terms that even highly educated English speaking parents may not understand. So the child in the report had a lot of multiple disabilities and needed quite a bit of support. And the report was very detailed in terms of what the school needed to do. So only towards the end of the report, almost as a footnote, I realized that the, the fact that the child spoke Chiche a Mayan language of Guatemala was highlighted.
(02:46) And so here was a child who was trilingual speaking Spanish, another, you know, an indigenous language and also English, but these assets and the gifts were kind of a side note in our footnote that really only a, a careful reader could actually find in this report. And so, as I was translating this document, it was about 40 pages. I realized that the family was not going to benefit from the information, not only because the first language was not Spanish, but also because of the high registered language that I was utilizing as an interpreter and as a translator. So the school district was fulfilling that language access federal mandate, but really neglecting the language justice piece in the process. So I started researching a lot of the experiences, multilingual families, and found very little research and so decided to start my PhD in special education, because there was a lot of gaps in information and things that I could not find that were really researched by our own multilingual community and for our multilingual community. Linda Egnatz (03:52): Wow. Yeah, though, that is having been a teacher in the classroom and working with IEPs, you're absolutely right. That Lang you know, the language is not, it's not just accessible to native speakers. Right. But difficult. And yeah, and I think that's a big piece that I look at language that, you know, a student is born with. That's a natal gift, and we don't wanna not only not recognize it, but we want to find ways to sustain it and to support that as well. So I wonder, you know, when you think about, okay, so as a Spanish speaker, obviously you've learned English. You, you know, so what is the role of languages or more than multiple languages in your life and work? How do you use those in your own activities? Ana Soler (04:39): So part of my other hat, because I'm sure many of us wear so many hats <laugh> we, this is a NAETISL is also a volunteer organization, but my, my actual job is SESO incorporated, which is a language services agency that I started about eight years ago. And so we did provide interpretation, translation services, mostly for schools. So I use, you know, not just my language, doing a lot of the translations, so these very complicated documents, but also I'm still interpreting because I feel that we, this is a, a lifelong career and we're always constantly learning, but of course managing a, a great group of interpreters who speak I think we have 15 languages represented in our, in our organization. And it's just amazing to see the bridges that they create, not just with language, but with culturals, you know, with culture. And they really tend to inform schools and administrators about some of the cultural aspects of their, of their world. And so that's really important as well. Linda Egnatz (05:44): Yeah. Like the role of multiculturalism is a part of that huge intersection. Yes. Just out of curiosity, because you kind of brought that out when we think about multiple languages, I think a number of individuals would be surprised sometimes to find out how many different languages are in a particular school district. Can you share one or two examples of, you know, how many languages actually are at that intersection of with disability? Ana Soler (06:11): Sure. So my, one of my jobs right before I started SESO incorporated, was working with the largest school district here in the state of Georgia and it's the, the largest and the most diverse. And so we have about eight languages that are priority language, what they call. And of course we have Spanish Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, Haitian C French are usually the, the languages that we have represented in, in just our school district. But commonly those are the, the languages that that we have requests for throughout the nation really in terms of not just working with special education, but in education in general. Linda Egnatz (06:54): Thank you. So what parts do you think of your life would be not possible without multilingualism? Ana Soler (07:00): Pretty much everything <laugh> so I, I think I am, you know, I am this work honestly, and it's and it's because of my experience, my personal experience as a bilingual young person, I came when I was 14, I spoke no English. And so I felt, you know, firsthand those barriers that all of us you know, who, who have that experience have to encounter, but at the same time, that's what really makes you stronger and makes you really strive to maintain your bilingual skills. And so really none of this, none of the the things that I have built in terms of my professional life and personal life, would've been possible if I had missed, or if I, if I had missed the opportunity of maintaining my, my bilingual skills, but also my culture culture is really, you know, intertwined with language. And so you got, you have to keep both to be able to, to do what I do today, so Linda Egnatz (07:54): Well that I that's really well said. And I, I think that, you know, the context that, that idea of, you know, keeping language, especially some of the home languages you know, sustaining those and providing support for those, because that is part of their culture and really part of identity. Yes. and I think so if you think about it in that term, how would you say, or, you know, maybe share with the, you know, whether it's our legislators who are gonna hear these messages or our sort of dedicated volunteers and language advocates that are coming from all over the country to participate that how has multilingualism served then as an asset to society by supporting more than one language? Ana Soler (08:38): So that's a great question. And I think that really multilingualism makes us stronger as a nation. It really highlights how interconnected we are a as communities. I, I think instead of highlighting our differences in terms of language and culture, it really brings us together. You know, at the end of the day, we're all human. So we have a, a thread of commonality, but it, it really kind of raises the, the fact that, that we are more equal than anything else. Right. And so it really brings us brings that connection to each other to a higher extent. And of course, for our young population, you know, we, we at NAETISL and, and also my other organization, we work quite a bit with young bilingual students, because we do want to highlight the fact that, you know, being multilingual is not just a gift. It's an amazing gift, but at the same time, it can, it can also open a lot of professional doors, you know, it could also enhance your career. You could also reach a lot more people with your multilingual skills. And so it really, you know, it's, it's such a, you know, giving gift that, that I think we do need to highlight, especially in our young population. So, Linda Egnatz (09:56): Well, absolutely. And if we cut, let's think more in depth about the young populations that you deal with, when you talk about the intersection of language and disability, what are those challenges that those of us who don't work in that space would not know about or would not recognize what, you know, what are their unique challenges, or, and as you said, what are maybe some of those opportunities? Ana Soler (10:19): So in terms of the challenges, definitely there's a plain language barrier. So it's not just a language barrier, which I don't really like to call language a barrier. I think it's just, you know, a different, a different language that we speak. For example, if, if the parents speak Spanish and the, and the school district, you know, the teacher speak English, we do have a, a difference in, in in languages, but at the same time, it's not just the language, it's the, the level of register the type of vocabulary that we use. And these settings that even when we have interpreters who are qualified and trained and well versed in this language, you know, they're still not going to be able to really relay the message that a parent needs to help their children. So in terms of it's more of a systemic change that we need to make in language, as part of that, it also has to do with really incorporating the fact that, you know, our parents are the best teachers that we have for our children, and we need to provide them with the tools to be able to really help their children as best as they can at home.
(11:32) And part of that is explaining what is going on at school, in, in plain language and that's not happening. So, so Linda Egnatz (11:38): That's, I think that is that, thank you. That is such an important message that, I mean, just even as an educator of language, you know, those are things that I don't, you know, I I'm worried about, you know, just sort of what I'm, what the student is learning, but that area of communicating with parents, and I know in our own particular district, we didn't have counselors who were speakers of other language necessarily, you know, so they'd bring down the language teacher to interpret, but you're correct. That vocabulary is, is, you know, it's not just even understanding the vocabulary is the purpose of the vocabulary with, for example, with those IEP. So, wow. That that's really helpful. And I thank you for sharing because that is, that's a incredible message. Just even as an organization that you have to share that I don't necessarily know is getting out there. So I really, really, really appreciate having you share this today, thinking about just the idea of language, how has that impacted you personally as an educator or a professional or, or a leader in your field, or even potentially as a parent or community member. Ana Soler (12:46): So it's it's really opened my mind to, to different perspectives. Not just my own, it's also, you know, as a Spanish speaker, I, I have learned to understand how our Spanish is not the same throughout the, you know, those countries where Spanish spoken and it has really allowed me to, to value our differences. So one of the another hat that I wear is that I teach a couple of courses for the university of Georgia. And I talk to my students about the importance of, you know, highlighting our differences in Spanish and respecting those differences among each other. And so it's really opened my eyes to, to valuing other cultures and making sure that, you know, once again, we, you know, we highlight our language as an asset and that not as a deficit, not as a barrier because it does open, you know, quite a bit of, of really doors to, to the world. So Linda Egnatz (13:43): That's, that's great. That is so true. I, you know, I was just in Mexico last week and I, the week prior, I was actually in Doha, Qatar and there was huge disagreements and arguments over the, the Arabic, because the common Arabic is not the Arabic that's spoken in each of the individual countries. Yes. And it's, it is that becomes that sort of question. And yet each of those countries and the way they speak the languages embedded with culture and identity, so, <right>. Those are important messages. And thank you for sharing them. Absolutely. So if we think, if we come back to our audience, what is it that you wish people would know about, not the importance of multilingualism about that sort of access with your language intersection, with those who have some, we'll just call it language disability. Ana Soler (14:32): Hmm. Yes, absolutely. So one thing that we, our message from NAETISL is the importance of having, not just an interpreter or a bilingual community member interpreting but actually having a qualified and hopefully one day certified interpreter to be able to help families during the special education process, but really throughout their education. We're very concerned about, you know, having folks who are not trained or qualified when, when we're assessing a child for special education, for example, because they could, you know, an interpreter who is not qualified or who does not follow a code of ethics, for example, may not understand the assessment process may not understand that they can incorporate biases. So the whole assessment process for special education can be flawed. And so even at the beginning, we need to make sure that the interpreters that we use are, are qualified.
(15:32) And so our organization is working towards a national certification process so that we can start from scratch and making sure that we offer schools and our families, the best interpreters that can have, because we, we believe they deserve it. And so our families do need to have the information as relate us accurately as possible, but also our schools need to rely and trust that the interpreter is saying exactly what they need to be saying. And so that's, that's kind of the, the message that we want to, to share is that that certification and that assessment process needs to be there. Linda Egnatz (16:06): Thank you. Because you will be in a, you know, heard by a number of educators that again, represent 50 states where we have, you know, not just languages from abroad, but indigenous languages that are being spoken. And that's really that's an important message and I don't think I've ever heard anyone articulate it as well. So thank you so much. Is there anything else that you would like to share with our last few minutes about your own language intersection or your own story? Ana Soler (16:36): No. I'm just grateful for this opportunity and I'm, I'm one of those lifelong learners. I'm very proud of being an English learner, emerging, bilingual. However it is that we call each other now <laugh>, but you know, it's just it's, it's an amazing experience to be able to, to do what I love every day and to be able to use my bilingual skills to really, you know, create an organization like this one support our mission and really all of, all of the folks that work and, at NAETISL will I say work, we're all volunteers, you know, we have this passion to, to make sure that we provide the best services for our families. So, and I, I appreciate this opportunity to share our message. Linda Egnatz (17:15): Well, we really thank you for it. I'm as a parent of an adopted daughter from Guatemala who came as a, you know, as an 11 year old with similar challenges, and who's now working actually in the Indianapolis public school districts as a bilingual Ana Soler (17:31): Oh wow Linda Egnatz (17:31): You know, so that seemed, that is, it's a huge space of need. And I really thank you for all your work. And thank you certainly for sharing your story, Amanda Seewald (17:50): That concludes today's featured story from our "Language at the Intersection Insights" Interview Series. For more information about the advocacy work of the Joint National Committee for Languages and National Council for Languages and International Studies, please visit www.languagepolicy.org. To learn more about this interview series, hear stories from other professionals, and explore how language moves our world, visit www.languagepolicy.org/languageattheintersection. Thank you to our interviewees for sharing their stories, thank you to our series sponsors Vista Higher Learning, and thank you all for listening.
This series is made possible by a generous sponsorship from Vista Higher Learning. To learn more, please visit https://vistahigherlearning.com/.
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