Before we dive into this idea of translanguaging, it is good to have an understanding of what bilingualism is. According to the Linguistic Society of America, “A bilingual person is someone who speaks two languages.” A more in-depth explanation of bilingualism and the benefits of it are explained in this TED Talk by Mia Nacamulli.
So what is this translanguaging thing all about?
Translanguaging is the process bilinguals use of drawing upon different resources (linguistic, cognitive, etc.) to make meaning and sense. For example, a parent could watch TV in Spanish, but talk to children in English about school and family in Spanish. The children might speak Spanish at home and English at school. The children might develop literacy and speaking skills in English at school. The language practices each individual uses varies based on the context.
Translanguaging does not separate English from the home language or vice versa. Rather, it views them as a whole. The children are bringing language skills in both languages at varying levels and abilities. They might have a higher proficiency in reading in the school language, but a higher proficiency speaking in the home language.
How is this an asset?
First, this is a great opportunity to build a home-school connection. Imagine a classroom where students are reading, creating projects, and talking in multiple languages. The students can bring work home in multiple languages and the family would be able to connect with the children more easily than if homework is only in the school language. The family has access to their student’s education. The educator is validating the home language, which is very important when engaging families whose first language is not English. The inclusion of a translanguaging space legitimizes a role for the home language in school, leading to students’ increased self-esteem and investment in learning.
Second, translanguaging is what emergent bilingual children do naturally. They might use skills from one language in one context and skills from another in a different context. It is unnatural for bilinguals to try to compartmentalize language skills. The purpose is to use certain features to communicate effectively. Translanguaging practices are the norm for bi/multilingual children who come from homes that use multiple languages.
Another reason developing other languages alongside one another is good is that it does not create hierarchies. It does not place native English speakers as being superior to those that are learning another or multiple languages.
Fourth, by honoring translaguaging, you develop children who become global citizens. They will be able to build community with and learn from people that they see in society who are different from them. It would show them not only cultural, but linguistic diversity in the classroom.
Metalinguistic translanguaging space in teaching also allows bilingual students to compare and contrast the different ways in which the home language and the school language are used, building their metalinguistic awareness.
How we can create a space in our classrooms to allow for translanguaging to take place?
This post brought to you by Brian Durgin, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
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