The Crucial Role of Child Language Brokers

The crucial role bilingual children take in their families and communities as translators goes largely unnoticed. The article, In the service of surveillance: Immigrant child language brokers in parent-teacher conferences by Jennifer F. Reynolds, Marjorie Faulstich Orellana and Inmaculada García-Sánchez, discusses the circumstances in which children of immigrants translate or interpret for their families using their linguistic repertoire of their mother tongue and the native language of their current living status. This circumstance has been coined as “language brokering.” Immigrant families work to provide for their families and establish a foundation for their families to survive and thrive in a new country. Their children provide support by completing everyday tasks that may seem small to natives of the country such as answering the phone, running errands, making purchases, researching information on the internet, reading written information, and interpreting for their families in public encounters with doctors, teachers, lawyers, store personnel and others (“In the service of surveillance: Immigrant child language brokers in parent-teacher conferences” 2015).

Reynolds, Orellana and García-Sánchez discuss the use of surveillance to determine the different ways child language brokers make an impact in their communities and their society as a whole. While surveying a parent-teacher conference, they’ve determined that students who speak multiple languages are given agency to be a bridge of communication for their parents and teachers since they understand both parties. This can be a challenging task in itself since the students, in most cases, have to speak to and for both their parents and teachers. There’s pressure for them to truthfully convey the thoughts, comments and opinions of both parties verbatim. There are words that have different meanings and alternative uses that can be difficult to interpret. The article uses “cool” as an example for describing a person. In Jamaican Patois, someone who is cool is usually referred to as a “gangsta” but in English, “gangsta” is a person involved in gang activity and thus viewed as a negative description. Teachers are evaluating the proficiency their students have with language which can develop into racialization of these students and their cultures. Although some of these child language brokers may be unaware of it, they’re representing their people and culture through their interactions during these conferences, and it doesn’t stop there. Child language brokers are being evaluated in more explicit ways like when they’re talking on the phone or talking to authority figures and in more subtle ways such as going to a clerk to purchase something.

These child language brokers suddenly change from being a helpful service to their parents and teachers into being misunderstood representations of an entire ethnic background and/or race. The importance and difficulty of this task is overlooked because of the stigma brought against immigrants that they should know the language of the country they reside in, without considering the circumstances as to why these immigrants don’t know the language. There needs to be more consideration and appreciation for this fantastic ability.


Reynolds, J, M Orellana, and I García-Sánchez (2015). “In the Service of Surveillance: Immigrant Child Language Brokers in Parent-Teacher Conferences.” Langage et société 153(3): 91-108.

2 thoughts on “The Crucial Role of Child Language Brokers

  1. This summary is well-written in a clear and accessible style. You begin by accurately noting that the topic of the text is immigrant children. However, you significantly mischaracterize the arguments and content of the article and instead focus on the importance of bilingualism in an increasingly diverse culture. In each paragraph you offer vague platitudes about the importance of language in bringing people together, but that’s not what this article is about. Which is not to say that bilingualism isn’t a good way to bridge differences, but that’s not a claim made by these authors nor is it their main concern. You don’t mention surveillance despite its being the focus of the authors’ analysis.

    Your summary briefly notes that the authors study parent-teacher conferences, but gives no details. Your review of the evidence should both give examples and focus on how those examples support the main argument of the text. Also, be mindful of terminology: you suggest the authors say that the children they’re talking about have “authority,” but one of their major points is that even though children are doing all this unpaid yet important labor, they still don’t have authority. You do also mention agency, and this is the term the authors use so stick with that.

    In your discussion of the article’s contribution you locate two important points made by the text: the cultural significance of immigration in the US and the under-appreciation of the important work that bilingual children of immigrants do. Your summary would greatly benefit from expanding on these points while focusing closely on what the authors say in the text.

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