Teen Docents Promote Inclusivity with Mandarin Tours

By January 4, 2024Blog

At Los Altos History Museum, we constantly look for innovative ways to engage with our audience and make history accessible to all. The establishment of the Teen Docent Program is one such approach. Not only do these teen volunteers bring youthful energy and fresh perspectives, but they also represent a connection to the future, helping to fulfill our mission of bridging the past and present. Many of the teen docents are first- or second-generation immigrants, and, consequently, many of them are fluent in Mandarin. As a result, these docents have been able to offer impromptu tours fully in Chinese for visitors who may not speak English.

These teen volunteers play a crucial role in welcoming Chinese-speaking visitors and guiding them through the Museum’s exhibits. While we are actively working on new ways to bring translation to our exhibits, nothing beats the human connection of a docent-led tour. The ability to ask questions and tell stories in visitors’ native language ensures an enriching experience for all. Also, given the Museum’s focus on local history, individuals new to Silicon Valley may struggle to relate to its contents. However, by offering tours in non-English languages, we effortlessly bridge this gap, allowing every visitor to feel a meaningful connection to the Museum and the region.

According to the US Census, 53.9% of people living in Santa Clara County speak a language other than English at home. It is clear there is a need for tours in non-English languages. This is another reason why the Museum is lucky to have such a great group of teen volunteers. Without being asked, members of the Teen Docent Program stepped up to meet this need. In doing so, not only is the Museum more welcoming to all, but we are also able to better fulfill the goal of bridging the gap between cultures. The Museum hopes to add the option to reserve a tour in Mandarin and other languages, but until then it is great to have such reliable and dedicated volunteers who are happy to go above and beyond for visitors.

Many of the teens enjoy the opportunity to give tours in Mandarin as well. Some members of the program are immigrants themselves, so Mandarin is already their native language. For these teens, it may actually be easier for them to connect with Mandarin-speaking visitors. Others are second-generation, and use this program as an opportunity to strengthen their communication skills and expand their vocabulary. The Teen Docent Program offers a low-stakes environment for them to practice the language, not only with visitors but also with their peers.

The Teen Docent Program was originally created as a way for local teens to become more comfortable with public speaking, explore their interest in history, and give back to their community. Now, due to the rapidly changing demographics of the area, teen docents are able to accomplish these goals in unexpected ways–namely through giving tours in Mandarin.

Contributed by Lillie Moore, Museum Educator

Teen Docents providing tours.