Translanguaging – what is it and how do you plan for it? FAQs

With over 1,000 registrations for our recent Translanguaging webinar (if you missed it, you can watch the recording on demand and download the slide deck), it’s clear that planning for multiple languages in the classroom is an important issue many of you want to know...


With over 1,000 registrations for our recent Translanguaging webinar (if you missed it, you can watch the recording on demand and download the slide deck), it’s clear that planning for multiple languages in the classroom is an important issue many of you want to know more about.

In this post, Eowyn Crisfield answers many of the questions raised in the webinar.

Q. How do we get parents and students to ‘buy in’ to translanguaging?

A. There can often be resistance to using home languages at school so there is no short and easy answer.

It takes time to educate, converse, shift mindsets, and create a multilingual community. The starting point is always education – for parents and for students. I think that a professional learning community or working group is a good place to start, either with a book club approach or a research approach. This group is responsible for gathering key research information that supports integration of home languages into EMI, and for developing a programme of articles/presentations/experiences to present to the students and parents.

On a student level, how this key information is presented will depend on the age of the students. Young students connect more with the emotional aspects of using their own language, and can enjoy it with less questioning. Older students, especially if they are used to not using (or not being allowed to use) their languages may take more time to come around, and need a more fact-based approach. In classes with older learners, it is important to take time to develop a translanguaging stance (Garcia, Ibarra Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017), so they understand the advantages to using their own language.

Parent education is usually based on written communication and parent seminars, and including a participatory element (such as spending some time ‘teaching’ the parents a new language) can sensitise parents to the challenging situation their children are in, and the natural bridges and scaffolds that help understanding and development across languages.

Q. How can I manage a classroom of multilingual students when I don’t speak their languages?

A: Part of the answer to this question is based on the answer to the first question.

Open and informative discussions with students about how using their own languages can be beneficial to their learning builds the base for the clear common agreements that guide classroom practice.

Some schools have a school-wide classroom language policy, but I think it is good to get students involved in the process. Students of all ages can have guided discussions about how their language use can be positive or negative, inclusive or exclusive, and how it can help them learn. From these discussions, you build a set of common agreements as your ‘Classroom Language Policy’, and make it visible (child-led) in a dedicated space. It should be a living agreement, and teacher and students should remind each other of how to use languages positively.

Although there isn’t much research on student-student interactions when using their own languages in the classroom, what research there is (see, for example: Duarte, 2016) shows that given the mandate to use their own languages for learning, students do stay mainly on task even when the teacher cannot understand them.

Q. How is translanguaging different from code-switching?

A. There is no straight answer to this question, as it depends who you ask!

There are scholars who see no functional difference between code-switching and translanguaging, and there are scholars who believe that they are very different. It’s a question that could be answered from a neurolinguistic, cognitive, sociolinguistic, sociocultural or pedagogical perspective, and often the perspective that one takes will influence their opinion on this question. There are also other terms that people use to describe the same types of language practices, such as bridging, code-meshing, and dynamic multilingual languaging. My perspective is it matters less what we call it, and more how we implement it.

Q. How can you take a translanguaging approach with students who are not literate in their own language (without home language literacy)?

A. The first step is to check to see if their language is available on Google Translate speaker buttons.

If it is, it means that at least they have a means to communicate, and the teacher has a way to ensure understanding when necessary. There is an excellent article describing this approach in the EAL Journal.

This can also be useful with older learners, especially when instructions are complex. It is also key to know the language profiles of all staff in the school: teaching, support, administrative. Having a clear picture of the linguistic pool available will sometimes help bridge the gap for a student who needs support and doesn’t have a same-language peer.

Q. Do you have resources to share with parents and teachers?

A. There are good shareable resources available online which can be found on different platforms and organisations.

NALDIC has many good resources, and the Journal also signposts readers to research and practice resources. I have authored two short flyers: one for parents and one for teachers, both with a focus on the importance of first/home language development. They are designed to be helpful in promoting evidence-informed educational pathways for bi/multilingual children.

There are some other key readings in the bibliography below in the webinar which might be helpful as well.

Q. What research is there on translanguaging in other contexts?

A. There is an increasing body of research on translanguaging in different contexts.

While it is difficult to extrapolate from one situation or school to another, overall the research seems to indicate that in CLIL and foreign language teaching contexts it can be beneficial to strategically use students’ first languages. For CLIL contexts this would focus on understanding content and acquiring language. In foreign language contexts some interesting findings are related to vocabulary retention, and class cohesiveness.

Translanguaging in immersion contexts, particularly in minority language contexts, can be a bit trickier. There are tensions between the usefulness of the L1 (majority language) and the possibility that without protected spaces for the minority language it will not develop properly. An example would be in Irish immersion schools, where the students are surrounded by English and are all English-dominant. Allowing English into the Irish classrooms would risk students losing the motivation to work on developing in Irish, and would also compromise the amount of input they would get in Irish. There are no clear answers to these questions. It is also the case that in these types of school, where students are learning a minority language through immersion, there are not the same concerns about loss of the first/home language. For example, in Canadian French immersion schools, the students live in English-speaking communities and families, and are surrounded by English in the media, etc. So their English development is never at risk from being in French immersion programmes, and there isn’t any pressing reason to use translanguaging to support L1 development.

Below is a bibliography with additional readings focused on some of the questions shared live in the webinar. If you have trouble sourcing them, feel free to contact me through my website and I will share a digital copy. There were far too many questions (always a good sign) to address in one post, so I’ll try and answer one every week or so on my teacher blog until I’m done!


Further Reading:

Allard, E. 2017. Re-examining teacher translanguaging: An ecological perspective. Bilingual Research Journal, 40(2), 116–130.
Creese, A., & Blackledge, A. 2010. “Translanguaging in the bilingual classroom: A pedagogy for learning and teaching?” The Modern Language Journal, 94(1), 103–115.
Duarte, J. 2016. “Translanguaging in mainstream education: A sociocultural approach”. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 1–15. doi:10.1080/13670050.2016.1231774
Karlsson, A, Larsson, P & Jakobsson, A. 2018. ‘Multilingual students’ use of translanguaging in science classrooms’, International Journal of Science Education, DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2018.1477261
Lin, A. M. Y. 2006. “Beyond Linguistic Purism in Language-in-education Policy and Practice: Exploring Bilingual Pedagogies in a Hong Kong Science Classroom.” Language and Education 20 (3): 287-305.
Lin, A. M. Y. 2013. “Towards Paradigmatic Change in TESOL Methodologies: Building Plurilingual Pedagogies from the Ground up.” TESOL Quarterly 47 (3): 521-545.
Littlewood, W., & Yu, B. 2011.” First language and target language in the foreign language classroom”. Language Teaching, 41 (1): 64-77.
Lo, Y.Y. 2015. “How much L1 is too much? – Teachers’ language use in response to students’ abilities and classroom interaction in CLIL” .International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 18(3), 270-28
Lo, Y.Y. and A.M.Y. Lin. 2015. “Designing Multilingual and Multimodal CLIL Frameworks for EFL Students”. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 18 (3): 261-269
Macaro, E. 2009. “Teacher Use of Codeswitching in the Second Language Classroom: Exploring ‘Optimal Use’.” In First Language Use in Second and Foreign Language Learning, edited by M. Turnbull and J. Dailey-O’Cain, 35-49. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Moore, P. 2013. “An Emergent Perspective on the Use of the First Language in the English as‐a‐Foreign‐Language Classroom”. The Modern Language Journal, 97, 1, p. 239-253
Tian, L., and E. Macaro. 2012. “Comparing the Effect of Teacher Codeswitching with English-only Explanations on the Vocabulary Acquisition of Chinese University Students: A Lexical Focus-on-form Study.” Language Teaching Research 16 (3): 367-391.
Turnbull, M., and J. Dailey-O’Cain. (Eds.) 2009. “First Language Use in Second and Foreign Language Learning”. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Wang, D. 2016. “Translanguaging in Chinese foreign language classrooms: students and teachers’ attitudes and practices”, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, DOI: 10.1080/13670050.2016.1231773


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