QUESTION: Translanguaging is a new term for me. I attended a conference presentation in which the speaker said that the 'taboo' of an EFL teacher using any other language other than English with her learners has been officially lifted....

QUESTION:  Translanguaging is a new term for me.  I attended a conference presentation in which the speaker said that the 'taboo' of an EFL teacher using any other language other than English with her learners has been officially lifted.  In University, I was taught to use English only in class!

ANSWER:  Yes.  For about a century, methodological prescription has encouraged 'English only' practices.  As today's global world helps create groups of multilingual learners in any given language teaching situation, it may make good sense that English be spoken exclusively--used as the group's lingua franca and, obviously, the target language.  However, researchers are finding that, in educational settings, languages can work together to improve learners' understanding and motivation and to help develop both their linguistic and cognitive skills.  Translanguaging is a process whereby a whole meaning-making system uses any or all of the speakers' linguistic resources. Pedagogical translanguaging, which concerns us language teaching professionals, can be used by both learners and teachers.  Language teachers need to employ translanguaging   strategically, not randomly.

Here are a number of tips for teachers working in a homogeneous situation where they and their learners share a common language other than English.

1.  Suggested translanguaging strategies are not that new in TEFL;  in the 1990's Tom Hutchinson wrote in the Project Work Series (Oxford University Press), that the use of L1 was  part of the research reading  that  learners may need to do to create projects.  This gathering of information in their own language was especially for projects whose topics centered around their own culture and people.



2.  "The Grapevine":  We know that some learners come to our classes 'trained' to detect 'unknown words' in coursebook texts.  As much as we try to incorporate and 'pre-handle' those words within phrases into our pre-reading activities,  'What does _____ mean?' questions  may crop up!  To gloss content words -- ones useful for deeper comprehension of a text, yet infrequent or specialized-- the teacher can whisper, to the learner who asked the question, an L1 paraphrase of the word within the phrase, in which it appears in the text.  The Grapevine starts when this learner, in turn, whispers the L1 phrase to those seated near him, and then, the 'message' travels round the class to the satisfaction of many learners.  We use the verb 'whisper' to indicate that the teacher's use of the learner's L1 can be as subtle as possible for two reasons:  (1) to give the one learner the privilege of initiating the 'grapevine' and (2) to establish a policy that we can use L1 in class, but will have English remain as the official language in our classwork.  In a language class of learners with diverse language backgrounds, the Grapevine technique may require a time extension for learners to mediate meaning among themselves.



3.  "Sandwich  Instructions":  This translanguaging technique works particularly well for setting up a new activity, which the learners have not done before.  (1) The teacher gives instructions, one instruction at a time, first in the target language.  (2)  Subtly the teacher gives the same instruction in the learners' L1.  And finally, repeats the instruction in the target language.  The 3-part process is repeated for each instruction.  A variation:  You can substitute (2) above by the teacher eliciting the instruction from Learner 1 in his/her language, then calling on other learners as each subsequent instruction is given.



In reality, there is, on our globe, a large number of communities of multilingual speakers who use translanguaging to communicate among themselves.   Most of us move in and out of such communities on a daily basis!  Therefore, by using translanguaging strategies in our lessons, we simulate real-life communication.   By making choices during lesson planning on when and how learners will use their linguistic repertoire, teachers make a new effort to further improve the learners' English specifically,  as well as their communication skills in general.

As in Hutchinson's suggestion above, learners can do background reading on a topic in their L1.  The teacher can set a pairwork brainstorm activity in which they write words, associated with the topic, in either L1 or the target language.  To follow this, the teacher can build in a dictionary activity in which the pairs of learners check their words and phrases in both languages, seeking out examples of use to share during Report Back.

Indeed, experimenting occasionally with a translanguaging  activity will prove to be fruitful, not only by acknowledging the linguistic wealth of any one learner and, thereby, increasing his/her self-esteem, but also for enriching  your own repertoire of teaching practices.


Suzanne and Lilika