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Translating Childhoods

Translating Childhoods: Immigrant Youth, Language, and Culture

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Translating Childhoods
    Book Description:

    Though the dynamics of immigrant family life has gained attention from scholars, little is known about the younger generation, often considered "invisible."Translating Childhoods, a unique contribution to the study of immigrant youth, brings children to the forefront by exploring the "work" they perform as language and culture brokers, and the impact of this largely unseen contribution.

    Skilled in two vernaculars, children shoulder basic and more complicated verbal exchanges for non-English speaking adults. Readers hear, through children's own words, what it means be "in the middle" or the "keys to communication" that adults otherwise would lack. Drawing from ethnographic data and research in three immigrant communities, Marjorie Faulstich Orellana's study expands the definition of child labor by assessing children's roles as translators as part of a cost equation in an era of global restructuring and considers how sociocultural learning and development is shaped as a result of children's contributions as translators.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4863-0
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    For more than a decade, I have been documenting the work that the children of immigrants do as they use their skills in two languages to read, write, listen, speak, and do things for their families.¹ I refer to a practice that has variously been called Natural Translation, family interpreting, language brokering, andpara-phrasing–terms I discuss further in chapter 1. Placing phone calls, taking and leaving messages, scheduling appointments, filling out credit card applications, negotiating sales purchases, soliciting social services, and communicating for their parents with teachers, medical personnel, and other authority figures are part of everyday life for...

  5. Chapter 1 Translating Frames
    (pp. 7-34)

    At ten years old Estela was considered by her mother to be “the right hand” of the family. Estela used her knowledge of English to make and answer phone calls, schedule appointments, sort and decipher the daily mail, fill out forms, apply for credit, help her younger sister with homework, and read stories-in-translation to her youngest siblings. She also helped with general household tasks: washing dishes, vacuuming, and making purchases at the corner store. Like Jessica, the girl who drew a map to record her daily life translations, this seemed for the most part “just normal” to Estela, as it...

  6. Chapter 2 Landscapes of Childhood
    (pp. 35-49)

    Hot summer nights in New England, circa 1970. I was ten years old, and school was out, so I got to play outside after supper until dark. Most of my siblings and the rest of the neighborhood kids were there. We sorted ourselves at times in pairs matched by age and gender; across these Irish- and German-Catholic families of five, six, eight, and ten kids, we could always find some age-mates. Other times we collapsed into mixed groups with girls and boys of different ages to play games like Kickball, Spud, and Kick the Can.¹ Kick the Can was my...

  7. Chapter 3 Home Work
    (pp. 50-65)

    Sra. Balderas got out the insurance letter that she had carefully set aside for her daughter to look at after school. When Estela walked in the door, Sra. Balderas greeted her with: “M’ija, me ayudas con esta carta.” (My daughter, help me with this letter.] Estela set down her backpack and walked over to the couch. She peered intently at the text as her mother looked on nervously. She read aloud in English, hesitantly at first, then confidently, switching seamlessly to Spanish after short stretches to explxain the letter’s meaning to her mother: “Ok, mira. Dice: [Ok, look. It says.]...

  8. Chapter 4 Public Para-Phrasing
    (pp. 66-78)

    Like home-based translation work, publicpara-phrasing involved a myriad of activities involving an array of institutional domains, set in distinct relationships, and directed toward assorted problems. Children developed and used a wide array of what Luis Moll calls “funds of knowledge,”¹ as they engaged in tasks that ranged from relatively simple things such as asking where items were located in a store or for directions on the street to much more complex negotiations with doctors, lawyers, and social service providers. Translations were provided mostly for family members, as when children read signs, labels, maps, and directions; often, publicpara-phrasing acts...

  9. Chapter 5 Transculturations
    (pp. 79-94)

    Because parent-teacher conferences offer particularly rich insights into the complexities of child language brokering on social, psychological, cultural, cognitive, and linguistic dimensions, I examine this activity setting in detail. The transactions also reveal adults’ assumptions about children and childhood, learning and development, and suggest how these beliefs influence children’s pathways.¹ They illuminate some challenges that interpreters face when they engage in interactions that would normally involve only two people. Cecilia Wadensjö,² in her extension of Erving Goffman’s concepts of participant frameworks,³ points out that the presence of translators makes dyadic exchanges into multiparty ones, but participants often continue to act...

  10. Chapter 6 Transformations
    (pp. 95-117)

    “Marjorie!” I looked up from my lunch in this restaurant frequented by university faculty on this first day of a return visit to the Midwest, startled to see “Nova” standing straight and tall in a waiter’s white pressed shirt and red tie, looking and sounding professional, confident, mature, and at home in this position and setting. After I registered my surprise to see him here, Nova told me of his activities: working as a waiter; designing web pages for cyberspace clients who paid for his services (with a business partner from Mexico); playing on the volleyball team (despite his father’s...

  11. Chapter 7 Translating Childhoods
    (pp. 118-126)

    There are many ways to understand children’s work as translators and interpreters for their families. We can focus on the burdens it sometimes places on youth and on how stress affects children’s growth and development. Turning this perspective around, we can highlight the cognitive, social, emotional, and linguistic benefits these experiences may offer to youth. We can either reject children’s involvement as a form of youth exploitation or applaud youths’ contributions to homes, schools, communities and society. We can talk about character formation, skills acquisition, and the pathways that are opened or closed through engagement in these activities, or we...

  12. Appendix A: Learning from Children
    (pp. 127-142)
  13. Appendix B: Transcription Conventions
    (pp. 143-143)
  14. Appendix C: Domains of Language Brokering
    (pp. 144-146)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 147-162)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 163-176)
  17. Index
    (pp. 177-184)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 185-186)