|BILINGUALISM-001| Translanguaging: an introduction

Hello Exam Seekers,

Imagine you step into a classroom where the students come from different countries and therefore speak different languages. However, some of them share the same mother tongue or may know some words from each other’s first language.
They are all put into the same room with the very same goal: learning English – or any other foreign language. This scenario is, perhaps, quite a common environment when you think about language institutes abroad, however, due to all the new approaches and methodologies that are coming up, many things are changing in these scenarios. Therefore, I ask you: What would you, as a teacher, do in such situation?

To use or not to use L1 in the classroom?
It is common knowledge that, as foreign/second language teachers, we have been mostly fighting against the use of student’s mother tongue in class in order to offer students better opportunities to be exposed to the target language and also to get to practice them. Still, some teachers are all for it, while others may not see eye to eye on the matter. Nevertheless, have you ever thought why we do this? Wouldn’t it be better if we could use the mother tongue of our students to improve their linguistic abilities since they are not blank slates and do have a linguistic background that could come in handy when learning another language? I mean, I am indeed playing devil’s advocate here, since I myself have already been in both sides and get the reasons why teachers choose what they do. There is undoubtedly some – or a lot of – food for thought in this subject.

Translaguaging’s view on language
If you are already familiar with the term ‘translanguaging,’ you know where this idea of welcoming learner’s L1 in the classroom came from. I have quite recently read a book on the translanguaging classroom by Ofelia GarcΓ­a, Susana Ibarra Johnson and Kate Seltzer and I am truly amazed at how language is seen from a different view in the book. In this approach, language is not learnt as a monoglossic system, focusing only on the input of a single language and asking learners to solely use their knowledge in the target language to develop it. The output in the student’s mother tongue is also taken as valid, and other students are called to interact going back and forth between the languages so as to make sure understanding is happening. Students are allowed to access and use all their linguistic repertoire and exchange experiences and knowledge to improve their linguistic skills in the target language.


More than merely developing language
Rather than believing that a language is learned separately from the other, the idea of translanguaging involves an integrating concept which brings the identity of the student to class along with their home, school, community, cultural and life experience. According to Ofelia GarcΓ­a, translanguaging “makes possible the educational inclusion of bilingual students’ ways of knowing and languaging. In giving expression to other ways of being and knowing, translanguaging has the potential to build a more socially just world.
Besides that, Garcia points out that “translanguaging helps students to see themselves and their linguistic and cultural practices as valuable, rather than as lacking. By teaching students to see their languages as part of a whole, contingent, and ever-changing performance, we are challenging a monolingual version of society and breaking the socially constructed fronteras that stand between languages and create hierarchies of power“. Not only do students become more self-aware in terms of identity but also they become more critical regarding their choices when expressing themselves and their view of the world.


How about you? What’s your experience with translanguaging or even with multilingual groups and the use of their mother tongue in the classroom? We would love to know your view on the matter!

Have a great week,
Eve and Patty

Leave a Reply