Breaking Through Language Barriers With Story

By Erika Janik | May 26, 2017


Listen Online

Carlos Rodriguez is a TimeSlips facilitator at St. Ann’s Center for Intergenerational Care in Milwaukee. Rodriguez is also a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. As part of his classes, he’s required to do a service learning project. He immediately connected with the TimeSlips program.

“I have my grandma who has Alzheimer’s,” says Rodriguez. “She’s back in Honduras so I don’t see her very much. What I’ve learned here, I’ve brought to her, and I think that’s the reason why I decided to do this because being connected to elderly people in the U.S. is some kind of connection to my grandma.”

He’s developed a bond with one of the elderly residents named Julio. Julio is from Cuba and talks about his family back in Cuba regularly. Rodriguez says he’s learned a lot about Cuba from him and is impressed with his recall of important dates in Cuban history. He recalls one time they were talking about a photo of a family eating dinner and Julio said the family was celebrating the new government in Cuba. When Rodriguez inquired further, Julio gave him a date that Rodriguez later confirmed was the date Fidel Castro came to power.

Julio doesn’t appear to have any obvious memory issues but he only speaks Spanish, something that has cut him off from the other residents. It’s something Rodriguez can relate to. His family moved to the United States from Honduras when he was in middle school. He spoke no English at the time. 

“I felt very isolated from everyone and I think that’s what happened with Julio,” explains Rodriguez. 

Rodriguez had a teacher who reached out to him, asking him questions about his life. Rodriguez does the same for Julio, translating the story prompts and making sure his voice is included in the stories. 


This story was produced in partnership with TimeSlips Creative Storytelling.



Erika Janik

Erika Janik

Erika Janik is the co-creator and former executive director of Wisconsin Life. She is the author of six books, including Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction, Apple: A Global History, and  Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine. She’s currently the executive...
2018-02-10T23:11:32-06:00Tags: , , , |

Sign Up Form

Sign Up for Our Bi-Weekly Newsletter

Get your favorite Wisconsin Life stories, meet the crew, and go behind the scenes.

Our Favorite Collections

Storyteller Rodney Lambright II's comic series about the rich relationship between a single father, his young daughter and his retirement-age parents.
For the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we discover how Wisconsinites experienced the war both at home and on the battlefield.
Ice, cold and winter are an integral part of what it means to live in Wisconsin. "Ice Week" explores the many ways that ice defines us.
Food plays a central part in many holiday traditions. This series honors the foods and meals that make the day.
Escape winter with a look at some of Wisconsin's favorite sports and games.
"Living the Wisconsin Life" is an online series exploring the little things that make living in Wisconsin fun, interesting and meaningful.