What is Translanguaging and How Can It Be Used in the Classroom?

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When children grow up in a multilingual household, translanguaging in the classroom can lead to more achievement in learning. Translanguaging is exhibited when a multilingual speaker utilizes more than one of the languages they know. In the classroom, this can be observed when Dual Language Learning (DLL) students combine words from their home languages with English. Research shows that translanguaging supports academic development, because a student’s home language scaffolds the child’s learning experience. Language and overall cognitive development are intertwined.

How Does Translanguaging Work?

A multilingual speaker is translanguaging when they use “two or more language varieties in a flexible way—not separated—to make sense of their lives.” It is an additive approach to language acquisition which honors the complexities of both language learning and cognitive development. Translanguaging does not require students to create artificial boundaries between the languages they know or are learning. Students are able to use all their language skills in order to support learning. The process allows students to increase “their English proficiency by enabling them to make connections between their home language(s) and English,” as well as help them understand other subjects.

Many schools are beginning to implement translanguaging as a pedagogy, especially in bilingual programs. Laura Hamman, Emeline Beck, and Aubrey Donaldson, the authors of A Pedagogy for Translanguaging, offer fellow educators three guiding principles to direct their approach:

  1. Translanguaging pedagogies should be purposefully designed and implemented. The authors encourage schools to plan a flexible approach that allows for translanguaging within subject areas.
  2. Translanguaging pedagogies should promote interaction and inclusion, drawing upon what students know individually and collectively.
  3. The authors encourage educators to create spaces where peer-to-peer interaction is encouraged and all students are welcomed.
  4. Translanguaging pedagogies should enrich learning across all of the languages in a student’s repertoire.
  5. The authors note that DLL students’ languages are interdependent and skills acquired in one language can transfer to the other language.

Translanguaging Tips

Depending on your approach to language development at your school, educators might decide to tailor existing program guidelines to include translanguaging. Guidelines for translanguaging give educators structure and strategies for use in the classroom.

First steps to move forward with translanguaging:

  • Work with administration to create or adapt a pedagogical approach to translanguaging.
  • Keep communication open with parents/caregivers. Ask DLL families to make a list of the most commonly used words and phrases in a student’s home.
  • Observe DLL students and how they use translanguaging to help them advance academic learning.
  • Ask students if they can repeat a sentence in another way, if you do not understand some of the words used. This acknowledges the student and the language they have spoken in, so that together the student and educator can work toward mutual comprehension.
  • Start home journals where students can write and illustrate concepts they are learning in both home language(s) and English.

Language learning for multilingual students is not simply about language; language encompasses all academic learning. It is how the mind constructs and comprehends the world around us. When educators embrace translanguaging, they support students’ full range of language abilities. This in turn allows students to utilize all their skills for academic development. Translanguaging “validates and humanizes bilingual students’ learning processes” and empowers them to fully participate in learning.

About the Author

V.Kulikow Montessori Life Blog Author

V. Kulikow is a former Montessori teacher and youth services librarian. She currently works as a UX designer and enjoys content creation both with words and images. On weekends you can find her gardening, taking nature photos, and working on her garden design certification through the Native Plant Trust.

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The opinions expressed in Montessori Life are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of AMS.

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