Translanguaging: q&aPosted: April 28, 2015
The concept of translanguaging was mentioned at a friend’s Ph.D dissertation defense the other day. Here’s some information about it.
Q: What an ugly word. Was it really necessary to turn language into a verb?
A: Not really. But you know what English is like: infinitely flexible.
What is translanguaging?
The phenomenon of people using more than one language in conversation, adding phrases from their other languages.
Isn’t that code-switching?
Kind of. Some people use the terms interchangeably. But there are differences.
What are the differences?
Code switching is a part of translanguaging, but translanguaging goes further. It is used naturally by students to help one another understand concepts and to make meaning. Translanguaging also involves deliberate pedagogical strategies to get students using all of their languages, their whole linguistic repertoire.
Why do that?
It strengthens both languages. And it values and affirms the first language instead of demoting it to a secondary status, behind English.
Where did the idea come from?
From a Welsh teacher/scholar called Cen Williams. He devised a special methodology to make sure Welsh children developed their Welsh language skills as well as English. The input would be in one language and the output in the other. For example, his students read a text in Welsh and wrote about it in English.
What’s the premise behind translanguaging?
Bilinguals don’t have a separate L1 and L2; they have a fluid linguistic repertoire. One’s language identity is dynamic. At different times of life, your L1 may become weaker than your L2. There’s a continuum of bilingualism that defies the categories we place people into: ‘monolingual,’ ‘bilingual,’ ‘English Language Learner.’
But why call it translanguaging?
What we’re doing here is seeing language as action – as something we do – which is why it becomes a verb, rather than a series of discrete structures to be learned in linear fashion. The prefix trans means move across. Bilinguals and language students are ‘moving across languages.’
Who ‘does’ translanguaging?
Everyone who uses more than one language in their daily life. In fact, a majority of the world’s population uses more than one language for work or social purposes. They move back and forth in their different languages. Watch these videos:
Isn’t code-switching employed when people don’t know enough vocabulary in their second language?
It’s not only a lack of vocabulary that prompts code-switching. When people code-switch, they do so systematically and for many purposes. For example: emphasizing a point; establishing membership of a multilingual community; expressing a concept that has no equivalent in the other language or is better expressed in one language.
Can you give me an example of a concept that has no equivalent in the other language?
Sure. I’ll give you three. The German word Schadenfreude refers to pleasure at witnessing another person’s misfortune. Wabi-sabi describes a Japanese worldview based on acceptance that nothing lasts forever and nothing is perfect. The Portuguese word saudades implies a feeling of longing that goes beyond missing something or someone. None of these words has a direct English translation.
Can you give an example of a concept that is better expressed in one language than another?
Sometimes it’s just a practical consideration. The Spanish word consuegra means your son-in-law’s mother. It’s far easier to say consuegra than the whole phrase in English.
Why might teachers introduce translanguaging to their classrooms?
If, say, a new student enters your classroom with a very low level of English, you want to involve that student and not leave them in a corner doing nothing. Finding ways to use their first language can help. It’s about adapting instruction to include everyone. Translanguaging also helps to raise metalinguistic awareness (knowledge of how language works) and highlights cross-linguistic similarities. The idea is to use all the linguistic resources possessed by the students.
How can translanguaging be practiced in a bilingual classroom?
Lots of ways. The teacher uses systematic methods to combine languages. Read a text in one language and write about it in another. Listen to a text in one language and discuss questions in another. There’s a school in the U.S. that puts on an end-of-term theater production using the different languages spoken by the students.
Any other examples?
A teacher called Camilla Leyba has a Rap Monday. She plays rap songs in English and Spanish and gets the students to translate the lyrics both ways using Google Translate, ipads, dictionaries, and any other resources they can find, including one another. Then they compare and contrast the songs. Later, they either write an essay or give a presentation in English, which they subsequently re-do in Spanish.
And if I want to find out more?
Look at the work of Dr.s Ofelia García and Li Wei. They’re the leading lights of translanguaging. Garcia has talks and articles on the web.
Thank you. You’ve been most helpful.