Translanguaging in the Education of Young Learners

Essay, 2020

18 Pages, Grade: A


Table of contents

Definition and Historical Backdrop

Importance of translanguaging in education

Translanguaging strategies for teachers

Translanguaging strategies of young learners

Personal perspective


Translanguaging is an approach that came up due to the bilingual tendencies in education following the trends of multinational and multicultural societies of today. The present paper presents an overview of the origins of translanguaging as a concept and also provides definitions that arose so far from its study. It also presents the benefits of translanguaging in education and provides a description of practices and strategies used by both teachers and learners towards a multilingual development in learning environments offering some insight on how translanguaging is used and which goals it aids fulfilling.

Definition and Historical Backdrop

Garcia and Wei in “Translanguaging: Language, Bilingualism and Education” begin by first defining the term “languaging” as a connection between all individual actions and processes, including language development and interaction, viewed as the combined effort for creating meaning from the world and further on they define the term “translanguaging” in reference to how plurilingual individuals use languages as a unified system but also define it as a new way used in pedagogy to teach language (2014). Originally used in Welsh as “trawsieithu” the term translanguaging was coined by Cen Williams in 1994 and it was used to describe the method of teaching in which students were prompted to use both English and Welsh in the classroom (Garcia & Wei, 2014). Both languages were used by students that alternated between them, using them for receptive and productive uses like for example speaking in one language and writing in the other (Garcia & Wei, 2014). For the application of this translanguaging technique, the revitalization of Welsh is considered to have been a prerequisite because through this revitalization, Welsh became mutually advantageous as English, bringing up reasons to promote the benefits of a bilingual individual in relation to cognitive development, school advancement and communication advantages (Lewis et al, 2012).

The idea that bilingualism is beneficial battled against older theories that bilingualism was a cause of confusion and it wasn’t until 1962 that research revealed the cognitive rewards of being bilingual (Lewis et al, 2012). Translanguaging became popular in a global context when all prejudice around bilingualism was eliminated especially after studies in neurolinguistics revealed that both languages were active at the same time and ready to be accessed and used by a bilingual person, even if just one of them was used at the time (Lewis et al, 2012). This was what primarily led to theories of implementing two languages in teaching like for example in the CLIL approach and thus a change from language separation towards a more multilingual learning approach occurred in order to achieve better understanding and performance in all domains of language (Lewis et al, 2012). Due to the growing demand of respect for ethnicity and culture of minority groups and through the mixing of socio-culturally different people bilingualism in classrooms became a way of developing both home and foreign language at the same time, without eliminating any language used by the student, beginning to form the concept of translanguaging which later was extended beyond its first use in the Welsh context, leading to the creation of works by various scholars like Garcia in 2009 and Creese and Blackledge in 2010, discussing translanguaging and deepening the ideas on the concept (Garcia & Lin, 2016).

Translanguaging is now perceived as another step towards fulfilling the goals of multilingual education promoted throughout Europe in the last ten years or so in an attempt to protect and promote minority and immigrant languages, to introduce English as a global language in early school years and to promote CLIL in an effort to create multilingual individuals increasing mobility and advancement in a globalized society (Portoles & Marti, 2017). As a notion, translanguaging is based on the theory that users of language create a unified linguistic inventory, drawing features from every language available to them, in order to perceive language and to use it in communication and this is done instead of the processing of each language system separately (Vogel & Garcia, 2017). Through the study of multicultural communication it became obvious that each language does not operate isolated from other languages but rather all of them add to a single language stock built by the user and used in order to reach competence which is goal oriented for each language and which might differ for each language (Canagarajah, 2011). Translanguaging is defined as this ability of the speaker to alternate between languages and use them as a unified system to ensure communication (Canagarajah, 2011). Various other definitions also came up describing translanguaging as the practices of bilinguals in regards to language or as a bilingualism with no clear distinction between the two languages but with a focus on the speaker or even as a combination between two languages to achieve task completion in regards to learning environments (Garcia & Lin, 2016).

As an approach to language teaching, translanguaging uses this ability to dynamically shift through languages in order to promote both teaching and learning of a language (Vogel & Garcia, 2017). From a language teaching perspective, translanguaging is defined as the the effort to use all available linguistic resources of the student to reach full potential of learning and advancement, achieving progress in the mental processing of the language and to promote skills like understanding, production of language and also learning by using both languages in a dynamic and functionally integrated manner (Lewis et al, 2012). In education translanguaging differs from the uses of translation or code-switching because it entails more than the use of both languages including a variety of bilingual processes performed by the students in many different ways in the classroom (Garcia & Lin, 2016). Translanguaging in the classroom is considered as a way to ensure that information is conveyed in full and that through the use of available languages learners get the full messages of teaching and achieve progress in their tasks, development and a greater engagement transforming the classroom into a space of no national, social or territorial boundaries (Garcia & Lin, 2016). In the classroom context, translanguaging consciously activates more than one language processing at the same time in terms of alternating between languages for both input and output and extends this not only in regards to language teaching but also to promote cognitive development and deeper understanding of content due to this activation of more than one languages (Lewis et al, 2012). Due to the benefits it entails even if translanguaging is a new concept that continues to cause debate it is studied thoroughly and gains ground in many parts of the world in recent times (Lewis et al, 2012).

Importance of translanguaging in education

It has been shown that translanguaging is valuable in education since it promotes a more open learning and cancels prejudices that might hinder development. Based on former prejudices against bilingualism and mostly western notions of unity through one common language translanguaging still arouses debate amongst those who embrace it and those who disagree with it as an educational practice, yet it is gaining ground in its use in language education (Vogel & Garcia, 2017). Those that oppose to translanguaging view it as a process that will blur the borders needed for each language’s separate development (Vogel & Garcia, 2017). In schools around the world the main language of instruction continues to be the national language with no real regard for the fact that today’s societies consist of multilingual individuals (Garcia & Wei, 2014). However, in today’s societies multilingualism can no longer be ignored and in this context the theory behind translanguaging in education has proven highly useful (Vogel & Garcia, 2017). As societies become more globalized, translanguaging is beginning to find use all around the world as a way to promote plurilingualism but also as a way to teach multicultural classrooms featuring immigrant or refugee children and even as a way to teach more languages to those willing to learn (Vogel & Garcia, 2017). Garcia and Wei (2014) claim that when it comes to translanguaging in education it is a bilingualism approach that does not focus on acquisition and development of the languages but rather on the practices of both students and teachers that refer to treating languages differently than two autonomous languages but rather viewing them as a unified knowledge, and that translanguaging can be used in all classrooms and by all educators for unbiased learning (2014). In education the weak and strong versions of translanguaging are used to distinct between a method which upholds national language but allows loosening of boundaries and bilingual teaching techniques allowing also transfer between languages whereas the strong version refers to the building of a single repertoire from which the learners decide which the appropriate features for each use are (Vogel & Garcia, 2017). This strong version also gives emphasis to how schools have built and maintained the idea of a standard language which goes against the idea of a unified linguistic repertoire and might stand in the way of students developing their bilingualism and their ability to distinguish and choose between features for different purposes (Vogel & Garcia, 2017). With translanguaging development of both languages becomes possible as part of a single system with combined elements rather as two separate entities which are viewed as one more significant than the other (Vogel & Garcia, 2017). Baker in “Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism” lists some advantages of translanguaging one of them being that by allowing a student to use both languages the teacher allows a strategic planned manner of use which enhances the student’s cognitive and linguistic abilities and the use the language in a socio-cultural context (Baker, 2001; Daniel et al, 2019; Hornberger & Link, 2012). A successful strategy would be to alternate between the uses of the two languages, giving the same gravity on both, for example, writing in one and discussing in the other and for the next lesson doing these activities with alternation of the language used in each activity (Baker, 2001; Daniel et al, 2019; Hornberger & Link, 2012). By doing this reversal, subject matter is understood in both languages and the information is also processed in both languages leading to advancement in language learning as well as content learning (Baker, 2001; Daniel et al, 2019; Hornberger & Link, 2012). Another advantage deriving from translanguaging is that it might help students develop their communication skills also in the language that they are not such strong users, as it aims to an academic development in both languages promoting this way a fuller bilingualism (Baker, 2001; Daniel et al, 2019; Hornberger & Link, 2012). Translanguaging may also enhance parent-teacher cooperation since the use of both languages will enable the parents to participate, help the students and support them with homework (Baker, 2001; Daniel et al, 2019; Hornberger & Link, 2012). Translanguaging also helps the integration of native speakers with new learners of the language allowing them to develop their language abilities along with content learning (Baker, 2001; Daniel et al, 2019; Hornberger & Link, 2012). Students which learn through immersion programs are also an example of how they use skills from their first language to guide their development in more languages by allowing the languages to work together in the understanding of context aiding this way to a better subject learning and to educational progress (Lewis et al, 2012). De Nicolo’s research in a bilingual classroom where both Spanish and English were used revealed that instruction in both languages promotes student engagement and participation not only for English or Spanish speaking students but also for those with a different language at home (2019). Students created meaning through translanguaging developing at the same time their skills in both languages while participating in an inclusive classroom that promoted the sense of belonging (DeNicolo, 2019). With the focus of translanguaging being the creation of meaning it is highly important to allow access to home languages and to allow students a voice in every language available to them in order to allow them to guide and support their own learning (DeNicolo, 2019). Through research it becomes evident that translanguaging nullifies boundaries and barriers between languages which in some cases may become boundaries to learning itself and allows the learners to develop strategies to guide their own learning and to move more decisively towards the learning of both languages.


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Translanguaging in the Education of Young Learners
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ISBN (Book)
translanguaging, education, young, learners
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Elena Agathokleous (Author), 2020, Translanguaging in the Education of Young Learners, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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