Translanguaging has two interrelated meanings. First, it refers to a sociolinguistic lens for understanding the complex communicative realities of bi-/multilingual speakers and communities.
Translanguaging, then, moves our thinking away from a conceptualization of bi-/multilingual in “monolingual terms” (i.e.: viewing these speakers as “two monolinguals in one”) towards one that more closely aligns with the fluid and interconnected bi-/multilingual ways of using language. Second, translanguaging refers to those pedagogical approaches that take up this new framing and applies it to teaching bi-/multilingual students. Whether they are enrolled in designated bilingual education classrooms or those that utilize the dominant language as the medium of instruction (i.e.: Swedish as a Second Language classrooms), teachers that take up translanguaging create opportunities for students to draw on all of their language practices at all times in order to make meaning.
The benefits of taking up translanguaging in the classroom are myriad, but generally fall into two categories. The first highly important benefit is that it provides students with access to academic content in the new language. Instead of waiting until students have proficiency in the new language before engaging them in rigorous content, translanguaging gives them the opportunity to use all of their linguistic resources to understand and make meaning of content. This helps bi-/multilingual students to progress academically and keeps them engaged and excited about their learning. The second important benefit extends past the classroom itself. Translanguaging is a way to meet bi-/multilingual students’ socio-emotional needs. For many bi-/multilingual students, their road to the language classroom has not been easy. Some have left behind family and friends. Others have faced unimaginable trauma. Still others are adjusting to new food, new weather, new cultural norms, and an overall new way of life. Learning the language of their new home is loaded with these relationships, experiences and histories. To ask these students to learn and even “think” only in this new language can feel like a rejection not just of their home language, but of these same relationships, experiences and histories. Translanguaging means that students do not have to leave their home languages at the door; they are actively invited into the classroom. In turn, students become more than just “language learners.” They are whole people whose lives outside of their language learning are valued, relevant, and respected in the classroom and beyond.
Teachers can take up translanguaging in a number of ways. An easy way to begin is simply to ask what languages your students speak at home and in their communities. Start with a short language survey – it might surprise you how many languages your students and their families speak! Armed with this information, you can make a number of small changes to your classroom design: you can create a bulletin board or other display that features welcoming words and phrases in the home languages of your students. You can find books and other resources in those home languages that are more readily available. You can form small groups of students who speak the same home languages so that they can discuss new content in their shared home language before reading, writing, or talking about it in the new language. For those students who are the only speakers of their home language in the class, you can provide them with the time to brainstorm, pre-write, talk to family members, or use the Internet to explore a new concept or topic in their home language before they encounter it in the new language. These small changes will help bring students’ languages – through which they can demonstrate what they know and can do – to the surface in ways that help them develop skills across school subjects.
For teachers who would like to start working with translanguaging, there are two ideas to keep in mind. First, remember that there is a difference between process and product in classroom learning. To create a translanguaging classroom means making space for the process to be bi-/multilingual, even if the product will be in the language of instruction. For example, even if students will ultimately turn in a piece of writing in Swedish, they can brainstorm, draft, talk with peers, edit, and research in both Swedish and their home languages. This idea requires a necessary shift in stance. No longer are teachers the “holders of all knowledge,” nor are they in control of everything that goes on in the classroom; they facilitate, guide, and – importantly – let go as students take control of their own learning through the use of their full linguistic repertoire. Second, remember that your students are your very best linguistic resources. Instead of seeing them as language learners in need of remediation, take up this new translanguaging lens and see them as people with vast linguistic gifts and experiences who, when given the opportunity, can enrich your classroom and your teaching.