Translanguaging as a way of enhancing learning

by | Jun 15, 2016 | Bilingual benefits, Bilingualism, Language and bilingualism | 0 comments

Translanguaging as a way of enhancing learning

This week’s topic is another manifestation of bilingual living: translanguaging.

If you look up the term in Wikipedia, it is described as “the dynamic process whereby multilingual language users mediate complex social and cognitive activities through strategic employment of multiple semiotic resources to act, to know and to be” Clear? For linguists maybe, but not for everyone, so let me expand.

Translanguaging is when a person who knows more than one language freely uses all her languages to ask questions, understand, learn, explain and communicate in a social (often educational) setting.

In a classroom this can mean that minority language pupils are not only allowed but encouraged to use their languages to help with the learning. This does not necessarily require that the teacher also knows the minority languages – instead the children can use the languages when speaking between them, and also use them to find information on the topic at hand, e.g. in the form of videos or texts. Any outputs, such as reports, write-ups, presentations or homework, are produced in the school language – unless all pupils and the teacher have at least some level of understanding of both languages, in which case both can be used.

This is an approach that is already (often unofficially) in practice in many schools – children use the language that they are most comfortable in to acquire and process the knowledge they need for completing a task. However, we still find classrooms where pupils are discouraged or even forbidden from using any other language than the official school language. The rigid restrictions are often based on the (false) presumption that children learn (especially languages) most efficiently when there is no interference from other languages.

Last weekend I attended the International Conference on Bilingualism in Education, held in Bangor in Wales, and listened to several researchers report that allowing pupils to use all their language skills in the classroom actually enhances their learning and allows them to participate more in class. Actively encouraging the pupils to use their home languages further helps with the children’s confidence and identity and raises the status of the minority languages overall.

I can understand that this could feel a bit counterintuitive for a teacher “How can I control a class where I don’t understand what half of the class is talking about?” – and it will need a bit of a rethink and a lot of trust in the pupils. However, another research project presented at the conference found that pupils who are allowed and encouraged to use their home languages, actually do not use this as an opportunity to speak “off-task” any more than what monolingual pupils do. It did however make them more engaged in the learning process.

Parents can also use the translanguaging model when helping children with homework. For example, the child can explain a task either in the home or school language to the parent, and they can then together discuss the topic and find out more information using the home language. Finally, the child would complete the homework in the school language. Having to process a task in two languages allows for a deeper understanding and learning of words, phrases and concepts in both languages.

I know that we are probably still some way away from making translanguaging an acceptable form of language use in schools, but as I firmly want to believe that teachers’ main goal is for all their pupils to learn as much and efficiently as possible, I would hope that more schools would embrace translanguaging. Food for thought, indeed!


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