Saturday, September 21, 2013

Literacy Brokering

Kristen Perry

Literacy brokering is a new term from America that's relevant to Natural Translation (NT) and is making its way in sociolinguistic circles. Making its way? Well, 729 Google hits at the time of this writing, which isn't much by Google standards. Nevertheless, it's among the topics listed in the call for papers for the Second International Conference on Non-professional Interpreting and Translation next year.

So what is it?

Clearly it's derived from the older term language brokering (over 9,000 hits), so we should start from that. There have been many mentions of language brokering (LaB) on this blog: just enter language brokering in the Search box on the right.

LaB is the translating done by bilingual children of immigrant families to help other family members, and sometimes other acquaintances like schoolmates, communicate with the wider community around them. Though it's a worldwide phenomenon, it's particularly associated with immigrant communities in the USA, especially the Hispanics, because that's where most of the research on it has been conducted. It was already a prominent topic at the First NPIT Conference last year (see References).

Now literacy brokering comes along to make a finer distinction. The assumption up till recently was that the input the language brokers received was spoken. Most of it is, but there's nevertheless a significant part that's written. The people who receive it before the interpreter-broker intervenes can't understand it or react to it because they're illiterate in the language of their new country. Hence the LaB interpreter becomes more specifically a literacy broker. Furthermore, the written communications tend to be more formal and to require more explanation than spoken ones.

There's a good page about literacy brokering in the latest edition of Educational Research. It summarises a research article by Kristen Perry of the University of Kentucky (see References).
"Getting a permission slip from home is one example of the 'literacy brokering' that a child from an immigrant family engages in to help family members understand the unfamiliar texts and literary practices of their new home... Children, themselves often English Language Learners (ELLs), not only help families with language but also with unfamiliar texts such as coupons, sweepstakes tickets, crossword puzzles, phone books, etc.... The majority of brokering events observed by Perry revolved around responding to school-related texts. The schools that the children attended sent home many papers."
The children are Natural Translators; they have had no training and receive none. Obviously the brokering can't begin until they're literate, say at around six years old, which is not necessarily the case with all Language Brokering. It also requires that they have more education and experience of the world around them. As usual with NT phenomena, sociolinguists and educationists are more interested in it than translatologists.

I've told elsewhere on this blog the story of how one of my earliest encounters with Natural Translation was overhearing a young girl at the counter of a post office in Ottawa interpreting an official  from English to Portuguese for her father (enter post office in the Search box). That was literacy brokering, but some 40 years before the term.

  • Marjorie Faulstich Orellana. Dialoguing across differences: the past and future of language brokering research. Paper to First International Conference on Non-professional Interpretation and Translation, University of Bologna at Forli, 2012. To be published in the proceedings.
  • ELL children act as 'literacy brokers' for parents. Educational Research Newsletter & Webinars, 2013. This is a summary of the following Perry article. To read it, click here.
  • Kristen Perry. Genres, contexts, and literacy practices: literacy brokering among Sudanese refugee families. Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 44 (2013), no. 3, pp. 256-277. Abstract here.

Source: University of Kentucky