Top 3 Ways to Accommodate Parents of English Language Learners

Parents of English Language Learner (ELL) or English as a Second Language (ESL) students have significant communication challenges impacting their lives. Imagine how different your life would be if you spoke no English, and your child was in charge. Can't you see the smile on his face as he blissfully controls everything your family does? He knows more about money than you do. He reads your mail and answers it, or not. He answers your phone and tells you what others are saying, or perhaps he does not tell you. He holds in his hands that all important line of communication between you and his teachers in school.

Schools Can Improve Communication with ESL and ELL Parents

 Accommodating the parents is a challenge for school administrators and is especially important when learning disabilities are an issue. Ensuring effective communication between the school and the parents is essential to meet the child's educational needs. The first and most important thing schools can do is to establish a climate that encourages growth in cultural responsiveness, sensitivity, and appreciation to entice ESL parents to participate in IEP team meetings and other important school functions.

Establish a Reliable and Effective Means of Communication for English Learners

  •  Interpreters are the most effective means of communicating.
  • Interpreters may be available through area foreign language programs in high schools, universities, and community colleges.
  • Large churches may have ministries for immigrant groups.
  • Chambers of Commerce, business organizations, hospitals, or fraternal organizations may have resources that can locate interpreters.
  • Bilingual children may or may not be an appropriate long-term solution for working with families. The child's age and maturity, language skills in both languages, relationship with his parents, and family dynamics must be considered.

Communication Technology Helps ESL Parents and Students Work with Schools

  • It is helpful for an interpreter to be available to the school and parents. This provides immediate communication and reduces misunderstanding.
  • Use telephone conference calls to involve interpreters in meetings.
  • Web-based meetings, conducted on reliable equipment with adequate Internet processing speed, can offer the interpreter and the family more opportunities to pick up on subtle meaning and non-verbal feedback to improve communication in ways that cannot be accomplished by telephone alone.
  • Translate frequently used special education forms and other important school documents for the parents.

Barriers to increased ELL Parental Involvement


The school can provide a home-school coordinator or liaison to keep the parent(s) informed and updated with school-related matters. For example, a coordinator or translator can be of service for websites that post daily homework assignments and newsletters or forms that go  home. These individuals can be of great value for meetings with the teacher(s).

School/Parental Perceptions

The school climate serves as the backbone for a child's day-to-day experiences both socially and academically. Evidence suggests a strong correlation between positive school climate and student learning and development. For example, studies of effective schooling for ELL students reported that schools characterized by a positive school climate emphasized high expectations for students' academic achievement, promoted student/family involvement in the daily activities that transpire at school, as well as recognized/celebrated the cultural backgrounds of the students and their families.


Another factor that poses a challenge for parents of ELL students is knowledge of regular practices at school. ELL parents struggle in effectively helping their children with homework in English. Oftentimes, ELL parents have limited formal education have difficulty supporting their child's educational growth and development. This makes it a challenge for teachers to stay in regular communication with ELL parents to discuss methods to help with instructional tasks at home to reinforce school learning.

For more information on how to promote ELL parental involvement, go to:

Edited by Douglas Haddad, Ph.D.

Continue Reading