2.6 Translanguaging with English



Translanguaging is the effective use of all one’s languages

In real interaction, multilingual people use all their linguistic resources to get things done effectively.

This process has been called translanguaging (García and Li Wei, 2014); incorporating the idea of languaging, a term which makes language a verb (Joseph, 2002). Languaging is a social process, encompassing all the linguistic interactions we engage in to continuously create and shape meaning through our experiences. Accordingly, translanguaging means moving across languages to achieve effective interaction.

  • Figure 2.9: Translanguaging

    [Source: Pixabay]

Translanguaging is actually a normal, everyday activity for billions of people around the world, including most users of English.

   In Depth

Here’s an example from Singapore, in which Seetoh, whose husband has recently died, converses with Jamie, an old friend (as reported and analysed in Li Wei, 2018). Note how the interlocutors interact fluently and naturally in seven different language/varieties:

  • Seetoh: Aiyoh (discourse particle), we are all <ka ki nang> (自己人 = own people, meaning ‘friends’), bian khe khi (免客气 = don't mention it). Ren lai jiu hao (人来就好 = good of you to come), why bring so many “barang” (things). Paiseh (歹劳 = I'm embarrassed).
    ‘Nei chan hai yau sum’ (你真有心 = you are so considerate).
    Jamie: Don’t say until like that. Now, you make me “malu” (shame) only. You look after my daughter for so many years, mei you gong lao ye you ku lao (没有功劳也有苦劳 = you have done hard work even if you don't want a prize). I feel so bad that I could not come earlier. ‘Mm hou yi si’ (不好意思 = I'm embarrassed). I was so shocked to hear about Seetoh, tsou lang ham (做人 ham ham—meaning life is unpredictable), jie ai shun bian.
    (节哀顺变 = hope you will restrain your grief and go along with the changes)
    Seetoh: ta lin zou de shi hou hai zai gua nian (他临走的时候还在挂念 = He was thinking of Natalie before he passed away) Natalie (Jamie’s daughter). […]
    [Key: Bold: Hokkien; angled brackets < >: Teochew; underlined: Mandarin; “double quotation marks”: Malay; ‘single quotation marks’: Cantonese; italics: Singlish; standard font: English]

Because translanguaging focuses on meaning, and challenges the idea of languages having fixed borders which shouldn’t be crossed in practice, it is very consistent with the plurilithic view of English as a resource with fuzzy boundaries, mixing freely with individuals’ other languages.

In education, the concept of translanguaging is used in multilingual contexts, addressing meaning-making interactions within a classroom. It gives bilingual and multilingual learners and users the opportunity to employ their full linguistic repertoire in order to express themselves. In other words, translanguaging allows learners to communicate effectively in class by using different languages for different purposes. For example, learners might speak about a class topic in Spanish, but write something about it in English; or, they might approach a text by reading it in English, but have a discussion about it in Spanish. As Ofelia García says in this interview:

    • “Only by drawing from their entire language repertoire will bilingual students be able to demonstrate what they know, and especially what they can do with language.”

The emphasis on performing bilingually in the classroom not only helps learners gain greater understanding of the content being studied, but it also helps make them feel more integrated in the classroom by bridging the language they use at home with the one used at school. In addition to language development, translanguaging promotes language equality and can boost a learner’s self-esteem in the process of language learning.

Your learners are not the only ones who can adopt translanguaging. You as teachers can also use it as part of your pedagogical practices, regardless of whether you are a monolingual or bilingual teacher.


activity  Activity

Translanguaging in your part of the world

Is translanguaging used in your part of the world? Have you ever used it? If not, think about ways in which you could use it in your context and how it might benefit your students.

How might you use translanguaging if you are a monolingual teacher or if you speak several languages but not those of your students?




 Reflection 2.2

Reflect on your understanding of translanguaging. What questions about the phenomenon do you have for teachers from your region and/or other parts of the world? Ask your questions (and answers ones that others have posed if you can) here.