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Fronteras: Do you translate for a non-English speaking member of your family at the doctor's office or at a restaurant? You're probably a language broker.

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Gabriel Amaro
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Belem López is an assistant professor The University of Texas at Austin's Department of Mexican American & Latino/a Studies. She is also the director of the LLAMA (Latinxs, Language, and Mexican American Studies) Psycholinguistic and Sociolinguistic laboratory.

Professional translators are routinely relied upon in war zones, at the United Nations and for journalists in foreign countries. But informal translation takes place every day — especially in immigrant and bilingual households.

This informal experience is known as language brokering; language brokers switch from one language to another in real-time and navigate linguistic and cultural hurdles in day-to-day life.

From doctors appointments to driver’s license applications, people in bilingual or immigrant households have to make quick translations to their non-English speaking parents or family members.

In a matter of seconds, language brokers are tasked with deciphering what’s translatable and what’s not.

Oftentimes, the responsibility of language brokering falls to children.

Belem López is an assistant professor in the Department of Mexican American & Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas at Austin

She says that while language brokering can have positive outcomes, it often puts young children in very adult situations.

“As an adult myself, there are situations (like) figuring out what internet plan is the best one for me can be a little stressful,” she said. “Now, imagine asking a child that's like 6 or 7 years old who's still developing cognitively to take on these sorts of adult-like tasks.”

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Marian Navarro produces for Texas Public Radio's Morning Edition and Fronteras.