How might a teacher in Guatemala say “good morning, how are you?” to a student as they enter the classroom?
In Spanish: “Buenos días, ¿cómo estás?”
In Kaqchikel: “Xsaqer, utz awach?”
In K’iche: “Saqarik, jasmächa?”
In Tz’utujil: “Saqari, utz awach?”
Roughly the size of the state of Ohio, Guatemala is home to just over 14 million people – and an incredible 23 languages. Talk about a communication and teaching challenge! Spanish is the national language used for business and education, while 21 of the 22 other languages have Mayan origins.
Many of the kids we work with grow up speaking only a Mayan language at home. When students head off to school for the first time, it’s like stepping into a new world with a brand new language: Spanish. Moreover, many teachers don’t speak the students’ native language. This language barrier coupled with inadequate reading and classroom materials presents a real hardship for both students and teachers. Many indigenous students feel lost from the moment they start their education. Guatemala’s school system does little to address this problem. And while most students learn Spanish as they go along in class; those who are unable to typically drop out of school.
In order to reach all students and improve reading skills, Child Aid not only provides books and materials to teachers but also hires literacy trainers who are fluent in the local Mayan language of the region where we work (e.g. Kaqchikel, K’iche, and Tz’utujil). Our staff uses techniques which help teachers learn how to take a bilingual approach to in their lesson planning and teaching.
For example, a teacher starts the lesson in the students’ native language, uses a book or reading material mostly in Spanish, then enters into a discussion between students in their native language, ending with a lesson review in Spanish. This technique helps students develop literacy skills in their own language while also helping them fully understand and incorporate Spanish materials.
By using both Spanish and local Mayan languages in teaching activities, staff and teachers find they are able to teach with more enthusiasm and confidence, and the kids are more engaged, inspired and successful in class.