The Translanguaging Pedagogy: Friend or Foe?

Translanguaging is a term that was first coined in 1994 as trawsieithu (translanguaging in Welsh) by Welsh researcher Cen Williams in order to refer to the processes in which English and Welsh were used for different reasons and purposes in the same class. For example, students would read or listen to content in English and talk about it in Welsh. Ofelia Garcia made the term more popular in her book Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective (2009) and later in Translanguaging: Language, Bilingualism and Education (2014).

Like codeswitching, the translanguaging pedagogy in international bilingual education is a process characterized by the use of two (or more) languages in the same speech, activity or linguistic context. In modern bilingual programs, it is the translanguaging pedagogy that effectively guarantees that students can cope with the discussions about content, other than language itself.

When traditional English language teachers all over Brazil analyze bilingual programs, one of the most common worries is the demanding level of language needed so that students can discuss all of the CLIL topics that are involved. When they see the huge texts and complicated vocabulary and grammatical structures needed to discuss about most of the topics, they tend to believe their regular students will not be able to cope with them. And, if it weren’t for translanguaging they would be probably right.

Translanguaging is exactly what helps students in bilingual contexts to be able to express themselves and engage in the discussions without the fear of being wrong or exposed in front of their peers. It allows students to use their full linguistic repertoire to talk about whatever they need to. Still, the biggest complain that most reluctant teachers have about translaguaging is that it might help students express themselves, but it doesn’t necessarily help them improve their second language skills. Ok, but that is exactly where, in my humble opinion, bilingualism meets EFL.

Accepting translanguaging in our bilingual classes does not mean that we have to neglect the teaching and perfecting of English. We are, after all, English language teachers. This means that, when students make use of translaguaging in order to cope with a task which they would not be able to carry out only in English, we can, and in my opinion actually have to, rephrase that in English for students to repeat, so next time they might be able to use less L1 and more English for saying the same thing.

What is important to understand is that we cannot expect students to be able to say only in English all we need them to in a bilingual context, using hard CLIL, Essential Questions, and a real multidisciplinary approach. The discussions in a real bilingual context tend to be much closer to the ones students would have in their L1 curriculum, so it does not make sense to expect them to be able to do so only in English. Our job is to lead them to do so by the end of the basic education years.

There’s certainly a lot to study about Translaguaging, but my main point in this post is that this process, or pedagogy, is a “great friend” that can certainly help teachers in their bilingual classes. It will only become a foe if you neglect your role as a teacher of English and do not take the opportunities that arise from it for you to actually teach the foreign language to your students.

Share your opinions about it with us! See you next month!

Eduardo Trindade

Eduardo is a freelance author and editor who has worked in the educational market, for schools and publishers, all over Latin America for over 25 years. Currently, besides being involved with content editing and production for Richmond projects, both in Brazil and in the UK, Eduardo is also a professor at Live University’s MBAs and the Managing Director of ASSIST Education Brazil, Richmond’s partner for the High School Dual Diploma solution. He is a journalist and holds an MBA in Business Management.

  • Raphael
    Posted at 13:59h, 06 setembro Responder

    Havia visto um artigo sobre o assunto. O processo de imput – processing – output na linguagem pedagógica. Tenho amigo professor de libras e eles usam algo assim para didática de ensino de linguagem de sinais. Muito legal

    • Eduardo Trindade
      Eduardo Trindade
      Posted at 11:57h, 07 setembro Responder

      Pois é, Raphael, essa é uma das formas que se pode fazer uso de translanguaging, como feito no trabalho do pesquisador galês, Cen Williams, que cunhou o termo, com input em uma língua, output em outra. Em programas bilíngues modernos procura-se ir um pouco além e estimula-se que os alunos sejam permitidos a utilizar palavras em português no meio de suas falas em inglês, mesclando as duas línguas mesmo, a fim de usar todo o repertório linguístico do aluno para que ele se comunique sobre temas interdisciplinares que exigem linguagem mais complexa do que seu nível de inglês. Neste caso o ideal é que as frases “mescladas” pelos alunos sejam refraseadas em inglês pelo professor, para que em oportunidades futuras eles possam tentar utilizar a lingua alvo. Enfim, é sem dúvida um tópico bastante interessante (e controverso) para estudarmos. Abs

  • Lyle French
    Posted at 11:16h, 29 setembro Responder

    Interesting general overview but in part a mischaracterization of Tl application in bilingual education.

    The author states, “In modern bilingual programs, it is the translanguaging pedagogy that effectively guarantees that students can cope with the discussions about content, other than language itself” – this is simply not true and not substantiated by research in strong bilingual and immersion education models internationally. What research evidence do you have to support this claim?

    Then goes onto to state, “translaguaging is that it might help students express themselves, but it doesn’t necessarily help them improve their second language skills Ok, but that is exactly where, in my humble opinion, bilingualism meets EFL.”. Bilingual met FL ed. many, many years ago, it is called immersion ed.

    Overall this blog argues that teaching in ‘bilingual’ ed is basically hard work and will be made easier (for teachers or learners…?) by the use of L1 under the practice of TL in the classroom. Although I am sure this is not what Ofelia Garcia intended in her work with minority language students initially in the USA, I would then ask does this hold true for all language learning contexts? In most French immersion (bilingual) in Canada teachers avoid the use of L1 (English) for the first 3 years and these students do as well or better in academics than students in monolingual programmes. Further, they excel in French. This majority language, one-way model, the same used in bilingual programmes/schools in Brazil, yields hard evidence, that by providing excellent comprehensive input, checking for understanding, great scaffolds and time for feedback (all in ONE lesson) students can perform well and indeed learn all in a second language.

    • Eduardo Trindade
      Eduardo Trindade
      Posted at 10:57h, 08 fevereiro Responder

      I’m sorry I just saw your comment today. Thanks for your views. I guess the miscommunication here was clear when you compared Canadian bilingual schools with bilingual programs in Brazil. Bilingual programs, the ones sold by publishers in Brazil, do not have the intention of transforming schools which buy their programs into International or Bilingual Schools, like PlayPen, St Pauls, and others in Brazil, let alone the ones you mentioned from Canada. Instead, these programs promise that students will be able to reach a true B2 level of English before they get to high school, but they will do so not by focusing on language learning alone, but through content that is aligned with their L1 curriculum. They intend to do so by exposing students to hard CLIL, using a lot of inquiry based learning techniques, so that students can learn the language at the same time that they are learning content from their L1 curriculum. As you probably know, proper inquiry based learning involves students asking what THEY want to know about the topic that the teachers are covering. And I can tell you without a doubt, after over 26 years involved in ELT all over Brazil, that students in primary or pre primary level would not be able, for example, to express all they could if we didn’t use TL techniques.
      So, if you’re asking for evidence, you would probably have to visit traditional regular schools in Brazil (not top AA+ schools) that are implementing one of the different bilingual programs offered in the market. The reality in these schools is completely different from that in Canadian Schools or the Brazilian AA+ schools that I mentioned, for example. In the vast majority of schools in Brazil it would be impossible for primary or pre primary students to discuss in English the same topics that they’re learning in their L1 curriculum. So, yes, there’s a lot of evidence all over Brazil, in schools which are adopting one or another bilingual program, that TL helps students engage with the topic and discussions and, with proper teacher support, develop their second language skills as well. But I reckon your views, although I believe your reference of true bilingualism could not be applied to more than 5% of Brazilian schools. At least not in the next 15 years or so, as this would involve a deep change in the profile of teachers and students. Take care.

  • Lyle
    Posted at 08:18h, 15 outubro Responder

    Sorry, just saw this reply today.
    In your reply you are discussing two models of language teaching with content, CBLT (Content Based) and CRLT (Content Related). AA+, PlayPen, etc. are CBLT, where students learn some content only in the target language whereas CRLT ‘bilingual programmes’, relate the content to the language lesson but are not responsible for teaching the content in the curriculum; use content to engage the learner. The vast majority of the programmes you refer to for the ‘bilingual’ market are CRLT. If we look to the data from the USA and Canada, as well as Finland on these CRLT or even foreign language teaching, we see that again there is NO evidence that that the use of L1 in and L2 classroom enhances, or improves L2 output, and these programmes reach B2 or beyond. I refer you to McSwan, J, 2017 in the American Education Research Journal, Vol.54. In addition, think of language institutes in Brazil that relate content and/or themes to engage the learners into the lesson, and have done so for years using only L1.

    What is essential in the ‘bilingual programmes’ (CRLT) you mention, are effective teachers who can integrate language and content and SCAFFOLD the language learning for students, starting with comprehensible input and moving to specific strategies to support the language. What is often the case, here in Brazil, is that teachers have not received the necessary professional development on how to support learners with the language to effectively relate the content to the lesson, and then the argument is to allow students to use L1 to ‘make it easier’. To help students better engage with the topic ‘bilingual programmes’ in Brazil need to offer effective, professional training on scaffolding language while engaging students with content, this will make a massive change in students L2 output in Brazil and support our teachers. Avoid the crutch of L1, once it is used, students know they can always go there and avoid L2.

    • Eduardo Trindade
      Eduardo Trindade
      Posted at 16:49h, 26 outubro Responder

      Hi Lyle,
      Thanks for your comment.
      So, if you look at the original post, I am not claiming students have to speak Portuguese as they have always done in traditional English classes in regular schools.. This is not what TL is about. I am sure you have, too, read Ofelia Garcia.
      So you know that TL is not about letting students speak L1 only and just forget about developing their L2 skills. It’s actually about allowing them to use all their linguistic repertoire In order to better communicate what they want to. And the teachers’ role in this case should be giving sts the necessary input so that the next time they want to say the same thing they will be able to use less and less PT. So, I’m perfectly ok if you don’t agree with Ofelia’s ideas, but I do. Besides, there’s always a different opinion on teaching techniques, so I believe we’re good. Thanks.

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