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Language ambassadors

What is a Language Ambassador Programme?

There are over 100 different languages spoken across the UK, and in primary schools, almost one in five children has a main language which is not English.  

There is an opportunity for parents to work alongside schools serving pupils from many different ethnic backgrounds to develop a ‘Language Ambassador Programme’.  Language ambassadors are bilingual people who volunteer their time to translate documents or provide interpretation services to families at the school.    

Depending on a school’s particular needs, it may also choose to have pupil language ambassadors who provide support directly to other children who are new to English during the school day. A successful language ambassador programme could include both pupil and parent ambassadors, alongside a series of events and initiatives aimed at supporting and celebrating diversity within the school.  This extra support may help children to feel more comfortable at school and assist them in their learning, and may also help to overcome any language barriers to parental engagement.

Types of language ambassadors

Parent language ambassadors

Schools serving a diverse community will have parents who speak a number of languages and those parents who are bilingual may welcome the invitation to use their special skills to support the school as language ambassadors.  Parent language ambassadors can: 

  • link people that speak the same language and build first language supportive networks among families
  • translate written documents (this can include key documents on the school website, such as the school handbook and admissions policy, and other documents that are created throughout the school year)
  • offer interpretation and mediation services during consultation/parents evenings, attendance and behaviour meetings and parent workshops.

Pupil language ambassadors

In a similar manner to parent language ambassadors, bilingual children may enjoy representing the different language communities in their school.  Pupils can be invited to volunteer as pupil language ambassadors to:

  • help children that have little English feel welcome
  • assist children who need extra help with reading and writing English.  They may visit classes throughout the week to offer language support when needed or translate for the teachers
  • help teachers identify areas that can be improved for children with multiple languages, and for children that are new to English. 

Community language ambassadors

In the absence of sufficient parent language ambassadors, schools or PTAs could reach out to the wider community, asking for people proficient in particular languages to volunteer their services to the school as language ambassadors. Potential volunteers may be found by approaching:

  • local secondary schools: older children may appreciate putting their bilingual skills to the test and secondary schools may encourage volunteering by allowing their pupils to visit primary schools or other secondary schools to offer their language skills
  • community centres
  • churches
  • language class teachers and tutors
  • WI, Royal British Legion; Scouts; Guides and other community clubs.

Getting started

  • A language ambassador programme could be coordinated by a parent in conjunction with a designated member of school staff
  • Send parents a message (via email, letters home in book bags, school newsletter etc.) to advise them of the development of a language ambassador programme and ask them:
  • if they would like to volunteer as a parent language ambassador
  • whether they would be interested in having documents translated and/or having a translator present at any parent teacher meetings
  • what languages they would like to have included in the programme.
  • Once parent language ambassadors are in place, post pictures of them on the school and PTA websites, newsletters and other communication channels. Put details on the school website of the designated staff member and/or parent coordinating the programme and invite parents in need of language ambassadors to contact him/her.  Consult with parents as to which documents they would find useful to have translated
  • Teachers could also invite their class pupils to volunteer as pupil language ambassadors
  • Once pupil language ambassadors are in place, post pictures of them around the school, announce their appointment at assembly and provide them with IDs to wear during their language ambassador activities.  Draw up a programme of when they will interact with those they are helping (during lunch times/free lessons etc.)
  • If volunteers from the wider community are fulfilling the language ambassador role, discuss your specific requirements with them and arrange how often they are able to assist the school and its families. Adult volunteers should also be DBS checked along with any other additional safeguarding checks that the school may require of volunteers.

Supporting and celebrating diversity

There are a number of initiatives that language ambassadors, the school and the PTA can undertake to further enhance the school’s diversity ethos and provide support to the school community:

Supporting pupils

  • Lunchtime learning – Once or twice a week, pupil language ambassadors could engage in activities involving children whose first language is not English. This could include playing various games in their home language which would allow them a break from learning English and help them feel settled and safe in their school. 
  • Language of the month – Every month choose a language that you will be focusing on. Introduce it at whole-school assemblies and invite the relevant pupil language ambassador(s) to read out some key basic phrases.  Phrases can then be practised in class and displayed in corridors. Extend it by teaching pupils about that country’s culture and customs and ask children to create fact posters about the things they enjoyed learning the most about each country. Along with learning a new language, children will also learn to value and appreciate diversity.
  • Show and tell – Invite children to bring in an object from their country of birth or that of their ancestors and give a show and tell session for the rest of the class. Hold the sessions straight after drop-off and encourage children to invite their parents/families when it is their turn to present.  Parents could also be invited to take part in the show and tell, or could bring in food or music to accompany the presentation.
  • Shared lunch – Arrange a lunch for parents and pupils where parents are invited to prepare a dish which is special to them (a favourite food, a traditional food, etc.) for everyone to share.  These lunches will not only be fun for the children and teach them about different foods, tastes and customs, but will also provide parents with an opportunity to come together in a relaxed environment and embark on friendships.
  • Link with other countries – Create a link with children and teachers in other countries. Set up a pen pal scheme or create a partnership with another school (visit the British Council’s Schools Online page for further information:
  • Celebrate religious holidays – Know the religious holidays and observances of all groups in the school.  Inform pupils of Chinese New Year, Diwali, Easter, Ramadan etc. to raise awareness of different cultures and religions. Explain why each occasion is celebrated and ask pupils what they enjoy most about them.

Supporting parents

  • Inclusive welcome signs – To make parents feel more comfortable when visiting the school, post ‘Welcome’ signs in all languages spoken at the school at each entrance and on each classroom door.  If your school has a flag pole, invite pupils to bring in a flag from their country of birth or from the home country of their parents and raise a different flag every day to celebrate the different nationalities in your school.
  • Translate documents – Provide printed materials that are sent home and passed out at meetings in all languages spoken by the families in the school. 
  • Reading at World Book Day – Invite parents to come in to their child’s class and read a book in their language on World Book Day or United Nations Day.  
  • International/ Cultural Evening event – The PTA may wish to organise an event for pupils and their parents to celebrate their different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Have food stalls from around the globe and encourage everyone to come dressed in traditional clothes to show off their heritage. Include a raffle with an international hamper; various traditional activities, games and dance demonstrations; and a hair spray stall to spray children’s hair the colour of their flags. Give each attendee a ‘passport’ and let them collect ‘stamps’ from each country stall they visit. This will encourage everyone to try new things and visit all of the displays.  Our International Evening information sheet has further suggestions.
  • Workshops – Hold termly workshops for parents in each year group to discuss what their children will be learning over the coming term, focusing on particular subjects. Make available practice sheets and have teachers demonstrate the methodology that the pupils will use to complete them.  Provide handouts with examples for parents to take home, along with suggestions about what they can do to support their children’s homework in this area. During the workshop have break-out sessions for all participants, allowing parents of the same language group to break off into smaller groups for more in-depth discussions. Have parents come together at the end of the meeting and ask a bilingual reporter for each group to share what was discussed and raise areas where they identified that further help is required. 
  • Friendly consultations – Ask parent language ambassadors to discuss with parents where English isn’t their first language what the school/PTA could be doing to communicate more effectively and to work collaboratively.

Reviewed: January 2018

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