MNPS tackles language barrier of 106 different languages - WKRN News 2

MNPS tackles language barrier of 106 different languages with translators


A diverse language barrier for students and parents is a growing challenge for Metro-Nashville Public Schools.

MNPS is meeting the challenge with the help of around 50 full-time Parent Outreach Translators who work across the district.

At one of MNPS' most diverse schools, McMurray Middle School, 70 percent of the students have Non-English Language Backgrounds (NELB).

There are 22 different native languages spoken among the students. The majority of students who are considered to have NELB have parents who do not speak English either.

Some of the students come to the school from new countries and must first be acclimated to how American schools operate cultural differences and the initial fear of being in a new country.

Translators on staff help put the children at ease, facilitate communication between parents and teachers, and are on-call for other activities like community meetings.

Eduardo Garate is a Spanish translator who joined the school district 10 years ago.

"With the Hispanic families we serve, the main problem we have is the language problem so parents don't get engaged in their children's education," he said. "When they find an interpreter there they feel welcome and they can get involved in the student's education."

As the school district's student population has become more divers so has the need for the languages spoken.

According to MNPS, 23,611 students speak a first language other than English. That is 28 percent of the entire student population.

District wide students speak 106 different native languages.

The top 10 native languages spoken are Spanish, Arabic, Kurdish, Somali, Vietnamese, Nepali, Amharic, Chinese, Burmese and Karen.

Leela Chamlagai joined MNPS as a spoken Hindi translator and a spoken/written Nepali translator three years ago.

"Being very new to the country they can be very confused it makes them feel very comfortable and very welcome," he said. "They are very happy to hear someone speaking about their kids at school in their own language."

Administrators said breaking down the language barrier and bridging the gap between parents, students and teachers is vital to students being successful.

"With our diverse population it is very difficult to get all of those parts working cohesively so we can do what is best for these students," McMurray Middle School Assistant Principal Zach Hodge said. "There are also cultural differences I was not aware of until I came here, so this has still been a learning process for me."

He continued, "I would not be able to do my job without the help they provide."

Even with around 50 full-time translators, MNPS still only has around 20 different languages covered.

The district turns to the Tennessee Language Institute when they need additional help with a specific language.

MNPS told News 2 immigrants placed in Nashville by humanitarian organizations who work in war-torn regions has driven at least some of the increase in diverse languages.

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