Translanguaging in practice

By Sumeyra Gok

Educators who work with multilingual students would know that language learning is not the only activity that happens in classrooms, nor is it the only goal. Students also explore their identities in various ways in relation to their peers, teachers, or the overall school climate. Some learn to embrace their cultures and backgrounds, whereas others try very hard to fit in, even if it means pretending to let go of their cultural identities. Therefore, a part of an educator’s job should be to provide students with opportunities to express and embrace their cultures and identities. This can be achieved in a multitude of ways, however, we will focus on some translanguaging strategies that can be used in classrooms.

What is translanguaging?

Translanguaging has been defined “as the deployment of a speaker’s full linguistic repertoire without regard for watchful adherence to the socially and politically defined boundaries of named (and usually national and state) languages” (Otheguy, García, & Reid, 2015, p. 283). It means using one’s knowledge of all languages, whether it is learned at a beginner or advanced level; different forms of a certain language, such as dialects, formal and informal jargon, technical language, etc. without having to restrict oneself to certain boundaries. There are four educational advantages to translanguaging; “it may promote a deeper and fuller understanding of the subject matter; it may help the development of the weaker language; it may facilitate home-school links and cooperation; and it may help the integration of fluent speakers with early learners” (Garcia and Lin, 2016, p. 3).

Examples from classrooms

a) Despite the common misconception that the target language must be the only language spoken and used in classrooms, there are practitioners and educators who encourage translanguaging practices in their classrooms. Alvarez (2014) presents a way of using translanguaging in writing and it is through homework. He suggests that translanguaging “seeks to utilize and promote students’ emergent bilingualism as sources for study, and to increase family engagement when conducting student-oriented research projects” (p. 329).  In this use of homework, teachers can not only encourage students to use and share their first languages but also include families in their learning. For teachers, it may be difficult to have good, working communication with parents of multilingual learners, especially when the parents are also English learners themselves. Thus, parents may feel that they do not have much to contribute to their children’s education, whereas students may regard their parents’ knowledge as irrelevant. However, teachers can encourage students and parents to work together, using all the languages at their disposal. Homework assignments which require students to learn about their cultural backgrounds, and to write and share about them would be among effective translanguaging strategies.

b) Flores and Schissel (2014) offer another strategy. They assert that “one of the most effective ways to incorporate translanguaging rhetorical models is to work with students to analyze texts by authors who use translanguaging for stylistic purposes.” In this model, “students can explore the ways that translanguaging allows bilingual writers to create identities that embrace the fluid language practices of bilingual communities.” In my own lesson plans, I as an educator, tried to include novels that used translanguaging techniques. One of the books we read as a class was called Breaking Through by Francisco Jimenez (2015), which is an autobiography. The author writes about his own experiences as an immigrant child who lived in poverty but overcame difficulties and became successful with the help of his family. The book is in English, however, some of the phrases or sentences are in Spanish, especially when he is quoting conversations between his family members. The style in which the book was written helped students relate to it more easily because it was realistic for bilingual characters in the book to make use of both their languages. It gave Spanish speaking students in class a chance to be proud about their language and teach us how to pronounce the words, whereas non-Spanish speakers were able to read the translation in the bottom of the page and learn new words from their peers.

c) So far, we have looked at translanguaging in writing in K-12 settings but translanguaging strategies can also be useful in a college classroom for students with advanced level of English. Canagarajah (2015) talks about a strategy he used in his college classroom.“In their weekly journals, I asked students to write about the writing challenges and insights into their literacy trajectory. At the end of the semester, I asked them to write a reflective essay for their portfolio, tracing their language awareness, composing practices, and rhetorical strategies during the course.” An effective strategy for high school and college students at more advanced levels is to make them become aware of their own learning processes. Students can keep journals and reflect on their language practices and this would start various conversations around language learning and translanguaging. With this assignment, Canagarajah also helped students explore their identities and find literary voices through reflective activities about the self. “These exercises encouraged students to engage with the diverse voice components (i.e., identity, role, subjectivity) in text construction.” In this way, translanguaging can be used as a strategy to help students explore and express their individual and cultural identities in writing.

Discussion

All in all, translanguaging can be used both as a pedagogical strategy and a daily practice. It is something that occurs naturally in the minds of multilingual students, however, it can be much more useful if it is practiced consciously. In schools, it can help foster deeper understanding of content, allow for a more meaningful negotiation with the text, and encourage students to embrace their multilingual identities and make use of their full linguistic repertoires. “Translanguaging acknowledges the multiple identities and languages of its speakers through creating a space where values, culture, language, and history can be expressed” (Kasula, 2016, p. 111). This is especially important in settings where students are required to master the dominant language, even at the expense of their native languages. In US schools, acquiring native like skills in English is often regarded as the goal and students are often discouraged to use other languages in the classroom.  Creating multilingual or translanguaging spaces are important because they help students preserve all their linguistic knowledge but additionally they show students that their languages and cultures are a part of what shapes their identities. It is unfair to ask students to ignore a part of themselves and to create a new identity that is more monolingual and similar to the dominant norms. Overall, as we are marching towards a more globalized and multilingual world, we should keep in mind that our cultural and individual identities are also becoming more global and multicultural. Therefore, we should try to create more translanguaging spaces in classrooms, instead of disadvantaging multilingual students by restricting their linguistic development and expression in their native languages. After all, the number of multilingual students are increasing day by day, and it is only a matter of time before multilingualism becomes the norm. 


References

Alvarez, S. (2014). Translanguaging Tareas: Emergent Bilingual Youth as Language Brokers for Homework in Immigrant Families. Language Arts,91(5), 326-339. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24575544

Canagarajah, S. (2015). “Blessed in my own way:” Pedagogical affordances for dialogical voice construction in multilingual student writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 27, 122–139. https://doi-org.libproxy.unh.edu/10.1016/j.jslw.2014.09.001

Flores, N., & Schissel, J. L. (2014). Dynamic Bilingualism as the Norm: Envisioning a Heteroglossic Approach to Standards-Based Reform. TESOL Quarterly,48(3), 454-479. doi:10.1002/tesq.182

García, O., & Lin, A. M. (2017). Translanguaging in Bilingual Education. Bilingual and Multilingual Education,117-130. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-02258-1_9

Jiménez, F. (2005). Breaking Through. Los Angeles: Braille Institute.

Kasula, A. J. (2016). Olowalu Review: Developing identity through translanguaging in a multilingual literary magazine. Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal, 18(2), 109–118. https://doi-org.libproxy.unh.edu/10.14483/calj.v18n2.10014

Otheguy, R., García, O., & Reid, W. (2015). Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics. Applied Linguistics Review6(3), 281–307. https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2015-0014

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