College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences

Uncovering the Effects of Language Brokering

Psychology Professor Conducts Research on the Impact of Child Language Brokering


Dr. Morales and his students at the Western Psychological Association Conference.

Alejandro Morales, assistant professor from the Department of Psychology, is conducting studies on the impact of child language brokering among Latino immigrant families. Language brokering is the process in which children translate and interpret for their parents and other individuals.

A popular environment for child language brokering to occur is in a school setting. In this situation, the child is forced to interpret what the teacher is saying to the parent. Children with no training or experience, which can result in miscommunication or misinterpretation, conduct these translations. Additionally, child language brokers are being put in complex situations, such as conducting buying negotiations (car, house, etc.), finalizing transactions, and interpreting interactions with everyday professionals (doctors, law enforcement, etc.). 

The research questions proposed by Morales are: What is happening to their brain during the translation? Why does this happen? How does it impact their development and future? “People want to know about these kiddos stories,” says Morales.

Morales’ first study, in collaboration with his colleagues at Cal State Dominquez Hills, involved the testing of 10 adult college students, who were asked to complete a complex English and Spanish translation. During the translation, a reading of the brain was conducted to determine what areas of the brain were being activated, and early results suggest that the frontal lobes had higher levels of activity, indicating use of complex cognitive abilities.

The second study consisted of researching the different types of language brokers. The study involves college students who have served as language brokers since they were younger. The study is surveying Cal Poly Pomona, Pasadena City College and Cal State San Bernardino students due to their large bilingual and multicultural populations. The goal of the study is to create different types or categories of language brokering as some children may do more verbal interpretations than written translations. The study currently has 200 participants, but hopes to gain a total of 500 participants for more accurate results.

The last study, which is currently in its early stages, is looking into how these experiences have impacted their career or major selections. Through the use of individual interviews, the study will focus on 10 students from different majors in their senior year at Cal Poly Pomona. Cal Poly Pomona is ranked 10th in student diversity among public and private western universities, making it a great place to conduct studies about language brokering.

Ultimately, the goal is to research the developmental growth of language brokering children and follow them from grades 9 through 12. We know that children start language brokering as early as age 9, yet no studies have looked at how this phenomenon develops in Latino families. Morales hopes to get enough data to publish these studies by the end of 2016, and apply for an external grant that can fund a four-year developmental study.

Written By Stephanie Salazar, Student Writer