06 set 2018 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.
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