Audubon believes that birding and the outdoors should be for everyone, regardless of race, identity, or native language. To make the outdoor experience more inclusive, some Audubon centers across the network are already including non-English speaking communities in their programming and work. Efforts as diverse as bilingual reading materials in Indigenous languages to hosting community-specific events like Seward Park Audubon Center’s Outdoor Asian Owl Prowl, and Latinx Heritage Month celebrations, are just some of the ways that Audubon nature centers are taking down the language barriers that has excluded these communities for so long.
Want to do the same with non-English speaking communities in your local areas? While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to success when engaging all communities, there are some common things that everyone should do to build those very first connections.
Listening is more important than speaking.
“You can’t just throw an event in a different language and expect non-English speakers to come,” says Joseph Manson, center director at Seward Park Audubon Center. In fact, sometimes focusing on the language barrier is not the best place to start. Running a nature center located in one of the most diverse zip codes in the country, Manson understands the importance of cherishing the diversity of local communities. Seward Park Audubon Center’s Owl Prowl with Outdoor Asian is just one of the many programming events that Manson has hosted for Asian and Pacific Islanders who feel left out in the outdoors. Although the language barrier was a big concern, Manson soon realized that being inclusive does not just mean having an event in a non-English language, and that addressing some of the other barriers is enough to engage people.
It’s that listening and follow-up that’s most important says Jason St. Sauver, education manager at Spring Creek Prairie Audubon and founder of Audubon’s Let’s Go Birding Together initiative. Listening to the people who experience barriers to being included in the outdoors is only the first step: You also need to be responsive to their needs as a community and work collaboratively by asking questions about how you can help them. Those questions might look like “Which dates and time would work best for a collaborated program?” “What types of activities would be engaging to you?” “Why are your communities not birding?” “Is there anything stopping you from being outside?”
St. Sauver says to be effective in programming for non-English speaking communities, you need to be flexible and ensure to give the community members have a voice and can help lead in what the event will look like.
Don’t reinvent the wheel: Start with partnerships with groups and organizations that are already ‘doing the work.’
Even when you have a vision of what kind of program would work for non-English speakers, it is always a good idea to reach out to existing groups and organizations that are already doing work in those communities. Establish relationships with these groups for input and opportunities to collaborate.
Often, this is how some Audubon centers got the inspiration for their first events with non-English speakers. St. Sauver’s friendship with a volunteer member made it possible for Spring Creek Prairie Audubon to host an outdoor birding event for seniors at a local Asian community center that serves refugees. Pachanga de las Americas was a collaboration between the Audubon Center at Debs Parks, Latino Outdoors, and other Latinx-based organizations to celebrate Latinx Heritage month.
Take culture, lifestyle, and socioeconomic factors into account when planning activities and events
Tania Romero and Estefania Palacio, both of whom work at Audubon Center at Debs Park, know the social and cultural dynamics of close-knitt Latinx communities. Both have seen the barriers that affect their communities and have devoted their work to making sure everyone has equal access to nature. “Knowing that the Latinx community is very family-oriented, we would host festival-type events where they can bring their families along to celebrate, entertain, and unwind after a stressful workweek,” says Romero.
When programming for non-English speakers, think about the culture, lifestyles, and even socioeconomic status of the community that you are engaging with. Take the time to translate flyers, posters, or hire bilingual interpreters to assist non-English speaking participants.
Diversifying your staff will diversify the audience you can engage with.
Diverse representation in your staff and volunteers is important if you wish to better understand and connect with non-English speakers. Employees are great sources of information and can help you reach new audiences and communities. According to Romero, it also helps with various aspects of programming. Romero says volunteers and staff members like herself have helped in translating materials, providing on-site interpretation, and building important partnerships with local groups.
When you bring on board a group of people with diverse background and knowledge, you are also letting these communities know that their voices can and will be heard.
It is not always about birds. Most of the times, it’s about building relationships.
Prepare to find out that a lot of non-English speakers do not know Audubon or its history, and may not be interested specifically in birds. As you are creating a platform for non-English speaking communities, Manson suggests giving people the opportunity to forge their own connection with nature and wildlife.
“You may have to pump the brakes on the bird knowledge,” Manson says. “Introduce people to the outdoors. Hear their stories and you'll find that their experience may be very different than yours. Your goal is just to make sure those conversations are heard.”
By taking these intentional steps and having these values guide their work, these Audubon nature centers have successfully created a welcoming space for non-English speaking communities to connect with nature: Seward Park’s programming encouraged participants to share experiences and knowledge of birds in their home countries, Spring Creek Prairie’s relationships with local Asian community centers opened the door for future events where seniors can participate in activities beneficial to their well-being, and the Audubon Center at Debs Park’s programming dedicated to Latinx communities, provided a place for families to enjoy themselves while learning more about nature and the outdoors.
If you follow these steps, you can create meaningful and lasting relationships with traditionally underrepresented communities and make the outdoors a better place for everyone.