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Across the Monolingual Divide

(From a letter to Xabi Odriozola Ezeiza, the International Commonality Reference Person for Languages and Interpreting)

Recently I’ve been teaching an RC fundamentals class in Chicago, Illinois, USA, that includes people who know English but not Spanish, and people who know Spanish but not English. I can speak both Spanish and English with some ease. I am still a new teacher. I welcome your thoughts about teaching bilingual classes and preparing our Area and Region1 for full accessibility. We have experienced the following:

Sweet appreciation is growing across the monolingual divide between people who don’t usually get to know each other in this significantly segregated city. It is particularly moving to see internalized racism “take a hit,”2 as Latinas/os and black people make good contact with each other. 

Sometimes I interpret while I’m teaching, which takes a huge amount of attention. I sometimes forget which language I’ve already said things in. I sometimes feel that I am not as creative or thoughtful in what I’m teaching, because of needing to split my attention between interpreting and teaching. Sometimes I speak first in Spanish, sometimes in English. A friend of our Area Reference Person has come twice and interpreted, which has helped me focus on teaching. Once a bilingual member of another RC class interpreted for me. 

It has been challenging to figure out how to work on racism when we split into caucuses. Those who speak only Spanish are people of the global majority. So when the people of the global majority meet together, sometimes I have to interpret, but I am white. 

Also, when we split into groups for any reason, I am almost always with the Spanish speakers, so my connection with the English speakers is more distant.

Our Area and Region have not done much work on language liberation. I’ve been thinking about small ways to connect my class with the Area and Region—for example, by inviting the leader of the people of the global majority, and Co-Counselors who know Spanish, to be guests for a class session. 

With much appreciation for your leadership, which makes everything go better,

Carol Rose
Chicago, Illinois, USA


Eskerrik asko (thank you) for your letter. I see the big work you are doing. Thank you! 

We have a different situation here in regard to languages and interpreting. Almost all our classes are bilingual. We always have interpreting, unless all the Co-Counselors understand Basque, our Indigenous language. Then we do not interpret; everything is in Basque.

It can be tiring to be the teacher and the interpreter at the same time. When I have done this, I have not had as much attention for my students and perhaps have not been a good model of sensible leadership. It’s difficult to develop and fully show one’s teaching leadership with attention always on the interpreting task. This may be a loss for the students, even though they gain by seeing the commitment to inclusion, peerness, and parity. 

When I have had monolingual speakers of two different languages together, I have split the class into three parts—ninety minutes for one language group, ninety minutes for the other language group, and then ninety minutes together. While I lead the first group, the students who speak the second language have sessions with each other or form a support group about the subject of the class, and vice versa. By the time we all meet together, it is easier for people to connect with the whole group. I have also tried this: on one day doing three hours for one group; on another day, three hours for the other group; and on a third day, having us all meet together. (This can be in the same or different weeks.)

The more and the better we all do this job together, the sooner we will have stronger, more solid Communities. 

I think you should have people helping you with this. Can someone in your Area, or in an Area close to you, help or think with you? 

Maitasunez (With love),
Xabi Odriozola Ezeiza
International Commonality
Reference Person for
Languages and Interpreting
Donostia-Gipuzkoa, Basque Country


1 An Area is a local RC Community. A Region is a subdivision of the International RC  Community, usually consisting of several Areas.
“Take a hit” means be diminished.


Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00