Are You Trusting Children to Be Your Company's Voice?
In my 20+ years professionally interfacing with the public, I have seen countless situations where Latino children have been called upon to serve as interpreters between their parents and the companies and organizations they are doing business with. In my teenage years, working my first few retail jobs, I was impressed that these kids were bilingual, and I wanted nothing more than to someday be able to do what they could already do at such a young age (some as young as five years old). As my Spanish fluency increased over the years, and the stakes of the positions I held grew, I started to realize that these kids were often in over their heads and being asked to perform professional-level interpretations far above their abilities.
Spanish-speaking parents, with limited English, when in need of a product or service, often put all their trust in their children, many of whom have been learning English in school for only a few short years. While this is the best solution these parents (your clients and customers) can come up with, if you are on the professional end of this type of transaction, you can do better.
As a loan officer, would you fund an auto loan for an 8-year-old? Of course not. Legally, an 8-year-old cannot enter into a contract, but that’s not the only reason you wouldn’t fund the loan, is it? Certainly there would be a question of morality here; the child most likely would not understand the rights and responsibilities stipulated in the terms of the contract. Legalities and moralities aside, at the very least, you would be putting your company’s reputation on the line.
Whether funding an auto loan, or doing any business transaction with customers with limited English proficiency—no matter what their first language may be—relying on their children (any children) as your company’s voice is, at the very least, worth taking a second look at.
Let’s look at it another way. Bilingualism aside, imagine you’re talking to any child whose native language is the same as yours. What is the most important piece of information you’d trust that child to relay to his or her parents? “Tell your mom or dad that it’s very important to …” I’m guessing the answer to that question would depend, at the very least, on that child’s age.
In our native language, we understand the limitations of a child and would not tell an 8-year-old, “Now, remember to tell your mom that this loan carries a variable interest rate and that the prepayment penalties are in addition to the …” You get the picture.
When we see children speaking two languages, though, we marvel at the feat and tend to overestimate their understanding and abilities, not to mention their confidence and cultural inclination to ask for clarification when needed.
When considering your need to provide products or services to those customers and clients with limited English proficiency, consider this: today's bilingual children often become tomorrow’s bilingual adult professionals looking for professional opportunities. Instead of putting your company’s reputation on the line by allowing your customers' and clients' children to be its voice, consider prioritizing the hiring of qualified bilingual individuals whose communication skills in both languages meet your company’s expectations of a new hire, or hire professional interpreters and translators on a contract basis if your bilingual needs do not warrant budgeting for full-time employment.