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Translanguaging and English Learner’s Success

By Jill Kester | February 12, 2017

Translanguaging and English Learner’s SuccessTranslanguaging is one of the five English language teaching (ELT) trends to watch in 2017, according to a recent TESOL article by Kristen Lindahl. Ofelia García, Otheguy, and Reid (2015) describe translanguaging 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” (p. 283).

Researchers for many years have been informing us of the important role of students’ home languages in language acquisition and literacy development. Fred Genesee writes that English learners’ home language is their most valuable resource.

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So how is translanguaging different from what researchers already know about the role of students’ home language?

Translanguaging differs from the traditional ‘monolingual’ view of bi- or multi-lingualism–that a speaker must be able to think and express him or herself completely within the restraints of one language. Instead of being confined to just one language, or code-switching between two languages, our emerging bilingual and multilingual students need to be able to access the combined repertoire of strategies they have in all of their languages.

Let’s look at an example. Imagine walking into a classroom where you see groups of students working together to create a model of the water cycle on posters. In addition to hearing groups working in English, you notice one group is speaking Hmong with each other, another group is using Spanish. Your eyes are drawn to an illustrated word bank full of water cycle vocabulary with several of the words translated into Hmong and Spanish on the wall. You notice the teacher working with a small group as he writes a word on an index card and gives it to an English learner to add to the word bank. There is a display of materials on topics related to the water cycle in several languages on a bookshelf by the door. Before giving additional instructions, the teacher stands and calls out, “Escúchenme (listen to me).” The class replies, “estamos escuchando (we are listening).” In a few weeks, the teacher will change to another language spoken by students in the class.

This is a class where translanguaging is taking place. Students are using their home language to discuss content topics. They are able to read about the the content in their home language. They are encouraged to speak and write using the full resources they have. Students develop a voice before they develop their English.

Would you like to learn in that type of classroom? Would you like to be that teacher? Let us know!