This is what happened to Yaaccoub Shaia and Liqaa Marrooki, his wife. They were immigrants from Iraq who, together with their three children, now live in Moorhead, Minnesota. For them, the fact that Moorhead School District having interpreters was a tremendous help because they can understand what is going on in the school. This helps them make the right decisions for their children. Shaia, speaking through Amar Hussein, the interpreter from the Lutheran Social Services said that it has become easy for them to communicate because the school has an interpreter available. He is able to understand about 95 percent of what the school district personnel are trying to tell him. He added that without an interpreter, it is like walking in a very dark place that prevents a person from seeing anything.
While Shaia and his wife speak to Hussein in Arabic, the husband and his wife speak Chaldean at home. Chaldean is an ancient language that originated from the Syriac language spoken in northern Iraq and by the Assyrian Christian communities around the world. Hussein, who is also from Iraq, added that the refugees and immigrants who are still learning English felt at ease whenever the interpreter showed up, since they can anticipate that they would be able to understand things better with the interpreter around.
Hussein said that without the help of interpreters, people who are new to the country, such as refugees and immigrants might just stay quiet during their lessons and wait for the sessions to end. This means that a communication gap will still exist, which could let problems to linger or develop. Hussein said that interpreters are there to fill the gap in communication.
In North Dakota
Like Moorhead, the school districts of Fargo and West Fargo also have interpreters. District officials say though that interpreters are not hired for the school children because the schools teach English to all students. To bridge the communication gap in school, they choose children who speak the same native tongue and have better English proficiency to be paired with newcomers to explain the school system and what the school expects from them and be their mentors as well. They also look for paraprofessionals in the area who speak the languages spoken by new settlers.
The numbers of English Language Learners (ELL) in these three areas have been increasing. In Moorhead, there are about 28 foreign languages spoken by new refugees and immigrants, while students in West Fargo speak around 38 languages. West Fargo spends around $10,000 for interpreters each year plus another $5,000 as contract payment for an interpreter resource center. Moorhead spends between $5,000 to almost $10,000 annually for interpreter fees. The biggest spender is Fargo, where new immigrants and refugees speak about 61 languages. The district spends about $17,000 each year for interpreter fees.