View Full Version : Teaching with a Language Barrier

12th June 2006, 14:18
I have two prospective students coming to my dojo this evening. My partner was teaching class last week (I couldn't be there....had to be Mr. Mom that night! ;) ) and they dropped in to the dojo. They have kids who were interested in training, but the parents apparently took a very active interest as well.

This is all well and good, except that the parents speak very limited English. They speak Spanish primarily. The kids apparently DO speak English fairly well, and are capable of translating for the parents.

My question is this:

Has anyone taken on the challenge of teaching students who do not speak the same language? If so, how did you work with that situation? These people do understand limited English, but from what my co-instructor told me, it's not much.

And to continue the thought, does the communication barrier present any legal dilemma? The organization we are affiliated with requires a membership form/waiver to be signed to join, and all school members must join in order to maintain the liability insurance coverage that is provided. This form is NOT available in Spanish, only English.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated. I have not met these people yet, but the other instructor said they were extremely polite and seemed to have a very high interest level.


12th June 2006, 14:32

Many of the students in our non-profit school of Korean Karate and Self-Defense speak languages, other than English, as their primary language. We have had students whose primary languages included Polish, Chinese, Russian, Greek and Spanish. However, Spanish is the most common of the languages spoken by students, other than English, in our school.

We teach bi-lingually in both English and American...meaning we use English commands, mixed with Korean terms and explain all with body movements and pidgin sign language, as necessary. You know what...it works.

Eventually, the students pick it up and improve their English, which they also learn in schools or on the job, according to their age and situation. Several of our Instructors and Assistant Instructors are native Spanish speakers or bi-lingual but do not indulge the students in their native language. Their language skills are only used in the most extreme cases of instruction or to answer critical questions regarding the school.

To my knowledge, no one has ever left the school because we did not accomodate their native language. Just sharing our experience for the benefit of others.


12th June 2006, 19:41
Yes, if you are teaching an art where the students have to learn the Japanese or Korean or whatever commands, language isn't much of a problem. everyone is in the same boat!

However, using children to interpret isn't a good idea. If at all possible, hornswoggle someone else into helping to have the first, or most complex, conversation with the parents -

Getting that form translated might not be a bad idea, either. If it is legal boilerplate, it shouldn't cost much to do it -


12th June 2006, 22:06
In regards to the waiver, I think the best thing would be to give it to them and aks them to have a person they trust translate it for them. Once they understand what the contents of the waiver are, they can sign it and give it to you, even if it takes more than a couple of days. That way they will not feel uncomfortable signing the waiver on the spot, without knowing what it is.

Teaching martial arts to someone who doesn't have full or even moderate command of your language will be a challenge, but it's not impossible. From your profile I see you practice jujutsu, which in my opinion is fairly easy to teach without a lot of verbal cues, since a lot of the knowledge is transmitted through feel. On the good side, they will accept whatever you teach them much easier, since they won't be able to argue with you too much :) Besides, most of the terminology that you use will not be in English anyway, so they will have to learn it just like any newbie.
Myself being a native Spanish speaker, I can tell you that by them having interaction with people who only speak English will greatly help them in improving their language skills. Next thing you know, the main problem you'll have will be making them stop asking you so many questions.

8th July 2006, 05:41
I'd say you have been granted a fantastic gift.

Learning by doing is probably the best way of learning martial arts. Learning by explanation usually just confuses things. If they don't understand, show them again, or have someone else show them, until they get it.

They might end up becoming your fastest growing students.

8th July 2006, 11:42
Thanks for the input, but they wound up signing a contract with the karate school that houses our jujutsu school. They went to observe both styles, and I know that the karate school tends to be more commercial than we are, and I think they "push" harder for students to enroll than we do.

So, while I was actually looking forward to this kind of training, I think they will probably not be back to class.

Oh well...

Thanks again, everyone.

30th March 2016, 09:55
I am agree with the reply of mews, Being a preschool teacher, I think the language you use for teaching students really matters a lot. It wont matter in case of art-craft and drawing lectures , but when it comes to learning theoretical part than, language importance occurs.

30th March 2016, 16:09
A lot of us who have been around for a long time had teachers who couldn't speak our language very well at times. It shouldn't matter a whole lot. Most modern dojo dwell on way too much theoretical.

Make class 'Less Chat and More Splat' it will all work out fine.