Selecting Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate
Materials: Suggestions for Service Providers. ERIC Digest.
by Santos, Rosa Milagros - Reese, Debbie
The population of the United States is growing more culturally diverse
each year, and this diversity is clearly evident among families with young
children (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1996; Children's Defense Fund, 1998).
Lynch and Hanson (1998) note that the individuals who work in early childhood
programs are not as diverse as those they serve. In California, for example,
there is little diversity among students preparing to be teachers (Hanson,
1990). Moreover, many early childhood professionals have little preparation
for working with families from a wide range of cultures and linguistic
backgrounds (Garcia, McLaughlin, Spodek, & Saracho, 1995).
In many cases, educators' and other service providers' lack of experience
with and knowledge of diverse families makes the development of relationships
with them difficult and may contribute to families' underutilization of
services (McLean, 1997). Fortunately, materials designed to help service
providers become more interculturally competent are available from a variety
of sources, including public libraries.
Based on Hains, Lynch, and Winton's (1997) definition of cultural competence,
"intercultural" competence is defined as "the ability to relate and communicate
effectively when individuals involved in the interaction do not share the
same culture, ethnicity, language, or other salient variables" (p. 2).
Service providers who are learning to become more interculturally competent
begin to appreciate the differences that exist between and among the diverse
populations they work with, thus serving diverse families more effectively
(Lynch & Hanson, 1998). Part of intercultural competence is being able
to identify culturally and linguistically appropriate materials that parents
and family members will find useful.
Even among interculturally competent service providers and teachers,
however, choosing materials to distribute to families is sometimes difficult.
This Digest focuses on how to identify and select culturally and linguistically
appropriate materials (e.g., books, brochures, pamphlets, fact sheets,
and multimedia) for parents and family members.
WHERE SHOULD I START?
Some parenting and education-related materials developed for families
with young children provide information that is culturally and linguistically
appropriate. However, other materials may appear to be appropriate but
contain information that families may find offensive. How can service providers
identify and select appropriate materials? Ways to begin this process include
* Get to know yourself. Spend time learning about your own heritage
and culture. At first glance, your family activities may look like everyone
else's in your neighborhood. However, there are differences across families
that may not appear to be overtly "cultural." For example, in many families,
a strong work ethic is present that has its roots in specific cultural
traditions. Try to learn more about the stories of your own ancestors.
Where have they lived? If they are immigrants to this country, what brought
them here? When you recognize yourself as "one of the many," you are likely
to be more accepting of others' cultural values and practices and to accept
them as having validity equal to your own.
* Get to know as much as you can about the culture of the people
you work with. Learn about their beliefs, values, and traditions. Are there
specific accomplishments the family or community is proud of? What do they
believe are the most important things their children should learn? Who
are the members of their family and what are their roles? How do they see
their role as parents? Find out if there are elements of their culture
they guard from outside eyes, discover why they are protective of them,
and consider how this protection may affect intervention. Become familiar
with their concerns about stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination.
What is their history with educational, health, and welfare institutions?
How do their experiences with these services affect their willingness to
access services? Remember that answers to these questions may vary from
one family to the next, depending on factors such as setting or income.
HOW MUCH DO FAMILIES WITHIN THE SAME CULTURE DIFFER?
Families follow traditional cultural or parenting patterns to differing
degrees, depending on a wide range of factors, including (1) the primary
language the family speaks at home and in the community, (2) the family's
level of education, (3) the family's religious affiliation, (4) the family's
country of origin, (5) the length of time the family has lived in the United
States, (6) the family's degree of acculturation, and (7) where the family
currently lives. Keep in mind that looking at specific factors in isolation
may be misleading-many factors work individually and together to influence
There are big within-culture differences in all these matters, and
income may be a stronger predictor of family preferences and goals than
some aspects of culture. It is important to note as well that not all families
are comfortable with providing specific information about themselves. It
can be helpful to find someone in the area from within the culture, or
perhaps someone the family knows well, who can introduce you to the family
and get the relationship started on a positive note. Those who work with
families are likely to be more effective when they know and determine the
comfort level within which families are willing to share their stories.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
Beyond these general considerations are the specific strengths and limitations
of the materials you want to distribute. You can assess the appropriateness
of particular materials by asking yourself the following questions:
* Does the publication, video, or audiocassette take into account
implicit and explicit assumptions, beliefs, or values that are appropriate
or potentially problematic for the receiving family? For example, does
the material assume that the mother is the decision maker in the family?
Does it promote or assume the idea that, across cultures, family members
take an active role in their children's education and school activities
and that this "active role" takes the same form across cultures?
Such assumptions can lead service providers to believe that parents who
do not come to PTA meetings and similar functions do not care, when in
fact they may care but they show their concern in different ways. One group
may think "active role" means joining the PTA, while another group may
think it means making sure homework is done. Still another may think it
means instilling values that demonstrate respect for authority.
* Is the information presented in a format preferred by the receiving
family? For example, if a family's preferred mode of accessing information
is through oral or visual
means, is the information you are providing available in audio or video
* Is the literacy level appropriate for the receiving family?
For example, is the information organized and presented in a way that a
family member with fewer than 6 years of schooling can benefit? Or is the
information presented in such a way that the family will find the material
patronizing and insulting?
* Are technical terms and jargon explained effectively?
For example, does the publication include a glossary of frequently
* Are the case studies, pictures, and graphics welcoming to the
receiving family? For example, are diverse groups of people represented
in the images? Do the images
suggest a contemporary or nonstereotypical view of various families?
WHAT ABOUT TRANSLATED MATERIALS?
Often, materials developed for English-speaking populations are translated
into a second language for use with a different population (e.g., English
to Spanish). There is an implicit but mistaken assumption that the translated
material will be appropriate for the second population, simply by merit
of translation. However, just as with materials in English, translated
materials must be carefully reviewed for cultural and linguistic appropriateness.
Sometimes, the individual who transcribed the material from English may
not be familiar with educational ideas and their application to intervention,
which may result in the material being inappropriate in that domain as
well. Finally, service providers must become familiar with the dialect
in use within any given community. Spanish-translated materials for a Mexican
American community may not be appropriate for a Puerto Rican community.
Finding someone to help you review the translated material may prevent
miscommunication and misunderstanding between you and the families with
whom you work.
WHAT ABOUT ADAPTING MATERIALS?
Service providers may find that a publication has strong points but
that it needs to be adapted in some ways to make it more useful. For example,
lengthy books or manuals can be excerpted, revised, or presented one chapter
at a time (but be mindful of copyright issues). You can also develop companion
brochures or guides to help parents apply concepts presented in a publication
to their own situation. Flyers listing related local resources or explaining
terms or jargon are also useful.
Becoming aware of resources that are culturally and linguistically appropriate
is not a simple process. Banks (1998) points out that, historically, values
and knowledge systems of mainstream researchers have been regarded as culturally
neutral, objective, and universal. Culturally inappropriate mainstream
ideas that have become institutionalized in well-meaning programs may harm
and disempower groups (e.g., families with low income and people of color).
Service providers who develop intercultural competence and collect information
on available culturally and linguistically appropriate materials that can
be used with families in their community are more likely to be successful
in their work with families than service providers or teachers who do not
do so. Careful review of materials before using them with a family is essential.
No single resource can address all of a family's needs, but, in many cases,
materials can be adapted to make them more useful.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Banks, J. (1998). The lives and values of researchers: Implications
for educating citizens in a multicultural society. EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER,
Children's Defense Fund. (1998). THE STATE OF AMERICA'S CHILDREN: YEARBOOK
1998. Washington, DC: Author. ED 418 794.
Garcia, E. E., McLaughlin, B., Spodek, B., & Saracho, O. N. (Eds.).
(1995). YEARBOOK IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION: VOL. 6. MEETING THE CHALLENGE
OF LINGUISTIC AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION. New
York: Teachers College Press. ED 393 560.
Hains, A. H., Lynch, E. W., & Winton, P. J. (1997). CULTURAL COMPETENCE:
A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE. Unpublished manuscript, CLAS Early Childhood
Research Institute, Champaign, IL.
Hanson, M. J. (1990). FINAL REPORT: CALIFORNIA EARLY INTERVENTION PERSONNEL
STUDY PROJECT. San Francisco, CA: San Francisco State University, Department
of Special Education.
Lynch, E. W., & Hanson, M. J. (Eds.). (1998). DEVELOPING CROSS-CULTURAL
COMPETENCE: A GUIDE FOR WORKING WITH CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES (2ND ED.).
Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes. ED 346 190.
McLean, M. M. (1997). FAMILY/PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP: SERVICE UTILIZATION.
Unpublished manuscript, CLAS Early Childhood Research Institute, Champaign,
U.S. Bureau of the Census. (1996). U.S. CENSUS BUREAU: THE OFFICIAL
STATISTICS [Online]. Available: http://www.census.gov/ [1998, October 28].