Translanguaging – Normal Bilingual Discourse

AUTHOR: Ivonne Santiago, Bilingual/ESL Specialist

Translanguaging refers to the language practices of bilingual people. Cen Williams first coined the term in 1994, referring to a pedagogical practice in which students alternated between languages for the purposes of receptive or productive use. Students may have been asked to read in English and write in Welsh and vice versa. Since then, the term and its meaning have slightly changed and yet the basic concept is the same. It is a process in which two or more people, who have comfort in the languages being spoken, are able to maneuver through an intermingling of languages without alienating any one member of the group. Bilinguals, with facility, mix all languages freely according to the situation and their current needs. It also refers to pedagogical practices that use bilingualism as a resource, rather than something that is perceived as a problem.

Translanguaging is NOT “code-switching”. It is not simply changing from one code to another. Code-switching assumes that the two languages of bilinguals are separate monolingual codes that could be used without reference to each other. Instead, translanguaging differs from that notion in that it refers not simply to a shift or a shuttle between two languages, but to the speakers’ construction and the use of original and complex interrelated discursive practices that cannot be easily assigned to one or another traditional definition of language. In addition, it makes up the speakers’ complete language repertoire (Garcia & Wei 2014).

All teaching uses dialog or discourse to communicate and to develop academic use of language. The language of instruction is similar to that of the students’ home language. There may be some slight differences, but nonetheless there is some continuity. That is usually not the case for bilingual students. In order for bilinguals to develop the language, they must practice it within an academic context. Translanguaging affords the opportunity to use home language practices, different as they may be from those of school, to practice the language of school.

Translanguaging practices are particularly effective with bilingual students because their language practices are often stigmatized. Many Latino students are told that they speak “Spanglish”. This term has a negative connotation, as it implies poor command of the language. In reality, it may have more to do with normal contact with English; it’s normal discourse for bilingual students. Translanguaging permits students and teachers to acknowledge and use the full range of linguistic practices of bilinguals, and to use these practices for improved teaching and learning. Listed below are some effective translanguaging practices:

  1. Create a student-centered classroom in which they are sitting in collaborative groups and work on engaging, hands-on tasks together, which will inevitably lead to translanguaging.
  2. Provide many opportunities for students to discuss, reflect upon, negotiate, and debrief on content, in whatever language they choose, but to present something or collaborate on a product in English.
  3. Have students present in one language and provide analysis in another.
  4. Provide many opportunities for low-stakes writing in which students can use whatever language they wish (learning logs, personal dictionaries, journals, reflections). These writings can then be used as a scaffold to write something in English.
  5. Structure the class so that students are asked to do frequent formal/informal presentations where there is reason to use English. You may allow them and encourage them to use whatever language they wish for reading texts, the negotiating process and ideas and discussion.
  6. Purposefully group students so that home language support is available to those who need it. It is best to have students sitting in a small group with at least one other person who shares his/her home language.
  7. Have students read a text in their home language before reading one on the same topic in English. This strategy can be used as basic scaffolding-reading about a topic in a language in which students are more comfortable, thus enabling them to better understand a reading on the same topic in English.
  8. Encourage students to use bilingual dictionaries to ensure they are learning the “anchor concepts” in both their home language and in English.

Translanguaging is a process by which the human brain is capable of accessing two or more linguistic databases in order to formulate a tapestry of words in various languages (all bound by the rules or English grammar) in the formation of a thought (Vinson 2012). One may implement these pedagogical practices in any educational setting: bilingual, ESL, and even a monolingual class. Translanguaging can serve as a scaffold for learning English and is a powerful way for students to use their languages as an invaluable resource.


García, Ofelia, and Li Wei. Translanguaging: Language, Bilingualism and Education. Basinstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillian, 2014. Print.

Gunnarsson Tina. Translanguaging: A Review of Flexible Language Use on Students’ Learning of Additional Languages (n.d.): Translanguaging. Lund University, 2014. Web.

Vinson, Jenni, and Dr. Ophelia Garica. “The Deliverance of Bilingual Education: Translanguaging.” Translanguaging. NYU, 2012. Web. Nov. 2015.

Witt, Daria. “The Deliverance of Bilingual Education: Translanguaging.” Translanguaging Strategies. CUNY-NYS Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals, Mar. 2013. Web. Nov. 2015.

Comments are closed.