Translanguaging is the process whereby multilingual speakers utilize their languages as an integrated communication system. It is a dynamic process in which multilingual language users mediate complex social and cognitive activities through strategic employment of multiple semiotic resources to act, to know and to be. Translanguaging involves issues of language production, effective communication, the function of language, and the thought processes behind language use.
It is believed that the term was first coined in Welsh by Cen Williams as trawsieithu in his 1994 unpublished thesis titled, "An evaluation of teaching and learning methods in the context of bilingual secondary education". Translanguaging can be controlled by both the student and the teacher. It maximises the child's bilingual ability and is being used across the world.
The 'trans' prefix emphasizes:
- the fluid practices that go beyond (transcend) socially constructed language systems and structures to engage diverse multiple meaning-making systems and subjectivities
- the transformative capacity of translanguaging practices not only for language systems, but also individuals' cognition and social structures
- the transdisciplinary consequences of re-conceptualizing language, language learning and language use for linguistics, psychology, sociology and education
Although some scholars have asserted that translanguaging is fundamentally different from codeswitching, these claims have not been anchored to data or the theoretical literature on codeswitching. Like codeswitching, translanguaging is said to be characterized by the integration of multiple languages in the same speech event or linguistic context.
Additionally, translanguaging is dissimilar from diglossia because translanguaging practices do not mandate a language hierarchy, nor do they mandate that different language systems are assigned to different domains or functions for the speaker; rather, translanguaging develops the adaptability and cooperation of language systems.
Bilingual education is thought to go back as far as 4000–5000 years. Among the bilingual tablets unearthed in Aleppo, Syria in 1977, there were a number of pedagogical texts that were used to instruct young scribes.
The ideology behind translanguaging emerged from the evolution of multilingual teaching practices, particularly the practices promoted by Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), an international association designed to advance the quality of English language instruction. The beginnings of bilingual education in the United States asserted the primacy of speech and fostered a stark neglect of written language learning. The second language instruction of the 1960s and 70s heavily utilized oral-aural drills, and written portions of the courses were mimetic and repetition oriented, and structure, form, syntax, and grammar were given priority status for learners. In this system there was no focus on actual language use, which led to a lack of knowledge about how language and communication work in real practice.
In the late 1970s and 80s second language education shifted to focus on the importance of communication and language use for participation in particular discourse communities. However, emphasizing language-learning as a means to enter a discourse community was also problematic, as it pressured students to surrender their own language practices in order to become practicing members of the new discourse communities.
Translanguaging as a focus of study first emerged in Bangor, Wales in the 1980s. It is based on François Grosjean's idea that bilinguals are not two monolinguals in one. Cen Williams and his colleagues were researching strategies of using both Welsh and English in a single lesson in a classroom setting. Cen Williams' Welsh term "trawsieithu" was translated into English as "translanguaging" by their colleague Colin Baker.
Scholars argue that translanguaging functions as an emancipation from the adverse second language acquisition pedagogies of the 20th century. They believe that translanguaging gives multilingual students an advantage within educational systems because it (1) promotes a more thorough understanding of content; (2) helps the development of the weaker language for bilingual or multilingual speakers; (3) fosters home-to-school links within language use; and (4) integrates fluent speakers with early learners, thus expediting the language learning process.
A prominent argument against incorporating translanguaging into academic contexts is the notion that speakers of International Englishes would have difficulty communicating with one another because of the immense variety of Englishes spoken. However, advocates for translanguaging pedagogy maintain that misunderstandings between speakers of International Englishes who practice translanguaging are not common, and when misunderstandings do occur between speakers they are quickly resolved through other means of negotiation. Advocates argue that speakers of International Englishes can communicate with relative ease because they have a variety of tools to utilize in order to make sense of the language varieties with which they engage.
Some academics call for the development of corpora of 'nonstandard' English varieties to aid with the study of translanguaging.
Barbara Seidlhofer argues that language acquisition programs should not be teaching language with the intention of achieving native-speaker competence, but that they should be "embracing the emergent realistic goal of intercultural competence achieved through a plurilingualism that integrates rather than ostracizes" International Englishes. This pedagogical strategy necessitates translanguaging as a means through which to accomplish such plurilingualism. For Seidlhofer, the incorporation of such International Englishes into educational systems would be more beneficial for second language learners than current dominant language acquisition pedagogies, which emphasize standard American and British varieties of English. Since achieving native-speaker status is nearly impossible without years of study, translanguaging presents students with opportunities to learn language in a more supportive space, fostering their language acquisition in all varieties rather than enforcing the participation in and acquisition of a single dominant variety.
Proponents of decolonizing the English language argue that holding on to particular varieties of English as the only legitimate varieties to use in language acquisition programs is a practice that perpetuates destructive colonial attitudes towards non-English languages and the English varieties of their speakers. Incorporating translanguaging is one means through which such a decolonization of the English language could occur. In this way, decentralizing those particular dominant varieties of English would work towards legitimizing the use of 'nonstandard' English varieties at the educational level.
Non-native speakers of English around the world outnumber native English speakers of English by a ratio of 3:1. At the current influx of technology and communication, English has become a heavily transnational language. As such, English varieties, and International Englishes are becoming standard usage in international economic exchanges, thereby increasing their legitimacy and decreasing the dominance of the standard American and British English varieties.
The development of translanguaging as a part of second language acquisition pedagogy signifies an ideological shift in bilingual and multilingual education systems, wherein bilingualism and multilingualism are no longer viewed as a disadvantage to learning a second language, such as English, but rather as an asset. The incorporation of translanguaging into educational settings signifies the movement of the English language towards a more heterogeneous system encompassed of several equally valued English varieties, rather than a system of two enforced varieties (Standard American and British Englishes) contesting with several other depreciated minority varieties. Importantly, translanguaging pedagogy demands that multilingual speakers engaging in translanguaging do not vacillate between language systems arbitrarily, but rather, that they do it with intention and a metacognitive understanding of the way their language practices work.
Translanguaging promotes a deeper understanding of subject matter, by discussing in one language and writing in another. Students will always reference what they already know from their first language when working with a second language. This helps students process the information and improve communication in their second language. When introduced in a Welsh bilingual classroom, translanguaging meant that the input and output languages were often switched. In this type of setting, students are typically asked to read a text in one language and discuss it either orally or in written form in their second language. In the case of the Welsh classroom, the languages used were Welsh and English. This led to an increase of Welsh speakers in primary schools in 2007, with 36.5% of the students being able to speak Welsh, compared to 1987 when only 24.6% of students spoke Welsh.
The goal of including translanguaging as an aspect of second-language acquisition pedagogy is to move beyond sentence-level and grammatical concerns in second-language teaching strategies, and to focus more heavily on discourse issues and on the rhetoric of communication. Students should be focused on the real applications of language that suit their purposes of communication based on the context in which they are communicating, rather than a one-variety-fits-all mode of learning language. Some scholars writing within translanguaging pedagogy argue for a diversified conception of the English language, wherein the multiple varieties of English exist with their own norms and systems, but all have equal status. Such a system will enable a variety of communities to communicate effectively in English. In this conception of English language, it should be treated as a heterogeneous Global language wherein standard varieties of English such as Indian English, Nigerian English, Trinidadian English, would still have the same status as the orthodox varieties of British and American English. Reinforcing only one variety of English in academic situations is disadvantageous for students, since students will ultimately encounter many varied communicative contexts, and as society becomes more digitally advanced, many of those communicative contexts will be transnational.
Since translanguaging is not yet a widely sanctioned language practice in educational systems, it is often practiced by students in secret and kept hidden from instructors. The practice of natural translanguaging without the presence of direct pedagogical effort can lead to issues of competence and transfer in academic contexts for students. This issue is why academics call for the inclusion of translanguaging in language acquisition programs, since students need to practice their translanguaging in a semi-structured environment in order to acquire competence and proficiency in communicating across academic contexts. If they are given the appropriate context in which to practice, students can integrate dominant writing conventions into their language practices and negotiate critically between language systems as they engage in translanguaging. For students to be successful at translanguaging in academic and other varied contexts, they must exercise critical metacognitive awareness about their language practices.
Making use of translanguaging in the classroom does not require the teacher to be bilingual; however, it does require the teacher to be a co-learner. Monolingual teachers working with bilingual or multilingual students can successfully utilize this teaching practice; however, they must rely on the students, their parents, the community, texts, and technology more than the bilingual teacher, in order to support the learning, and leverage the students' existing resources. As translanguaging allows the legitimization of all varieties, teachers can participate by being open to learning the varieties of their students, and by incorporating words from unfamiliar languages into their own use, serving as a model for their students to begin working with their non-native languages.
The traditionally censored nature of translanguaging in high-stakes writing assignments can prevent multilingual students from practicing their translanguaging abilities, and so it is the responsibility of the instructor to provide safe spaces for students to practice and develop their translanguaging skills. Teachers must plan out the translanguaging practices to be used with their students just as each lesson must be planned out, as translanguaging is not random. By reading bilingual authors and texts, teachers give the students the chance to experience two or more languages together and help compare and contrast the languages for the children.
Importantly, the use of translanguaging in the classroom enables language acquisition for the students without the direct insertion or influence of the teacher. While teachers do not need to become a compendium of the languages or language varieties practiced in their classrooms, they do need to be open to working with these new languages and language varieties to encourage student participation in translanguaging.
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