Here’s a topic that’s come up a lot recently again at school and in this online course I’m taking about the use of the mother tongue (L1) in the classroom. It’s something I’ve thought about writing for a while now, and with the course prompting me to think about this topic quite often, I think it’s time I gather my thoughts in a post. The topic today is, translanguaging.
“Translanguaging is the act performed by bilinguals of accessing different linguistic features or various modes of what are described as autonomous languages, in order to maximize communicative potential.” – Ofelia García (2009)
I want to add to the definition above, that in addition to maximizing communicative potential, translanguaging can be highly useful in accessing academic content.
But before I dive into that, I want to write about the terminology.
In the course I’m taking, I’ve noticed many people use the term “code-switching” and “translanguaging” interchangeably. I have to strongly disagree with this one. Code-switching implies that students are switching between two languages and therefore are not able to utilize all of their languages and the knowledge that comes with it at the same time. For example, if you say I “code-switch” between English and Japanese, it implies that when I’m using English, I’m not making use of the knowledge I have in Japanese and vice versa. It almost sounds as if I am disregarding everything I know in Japanese.
There’s also a common misconception that when someone is translanguaging or using multiple languages in a sentence or a conversation, they are doing so because they are “confused” or haven’t mastered the languages yet. As in, if I say one sentence in English and then the next one in Japanese because contextually in my head, it makes sense to do so, I am “not proficient” in either of the languages and I’m getting my languages “mixed up“.
But that’s not true at all.
The reality is that multilinguals use all of their languages and knowledge associated with each of those languages to make sense of the world around them. There are some things I know and are able to talk about better in English, and there are some topics that I can access and topics that are easier for me to talk about in Japanese. Sometimes, even Mandarin gets added to the mix with the cultural knowledge that is associated with the language. When I translanguage, the knowledge I have in all three languages I speak are still there.
Think of it like when you’re at a frozen yogurt store. Each of my languages is a flavour of frozen yogurt. In every conversation I have and in every communicative interaction I have daily, I am pulling on each of the levers for each language I think in or use or access. The actual interaction is what you see in the cup; all three flavours mixed together inside the cup because rarely, if ever, do the frozen yogurt come out in three neat separate piles. That’s what translanguaging is for me, really. A somewhat separate and yet a mixed product that allows me to make sense of the world and to express myself.
So the shift in what language multilinguals use to think about the world is more or less automatic. I’m rarely thinking “oh I’m going to use Japanese to think about this topic” or “Oh it’s easier for me to access this content in English!”. There isn’t a “switch” I press that turns on my “Japanese brain” or “English brain”. It is a natural shift that happens in my brains as I draw from those languages in my head because I’ve internalised those languages and knowledge and recognised all of those as a part of my “resource“. It is “what I know” and “what I can use“.
I think that’s enough for one post. I want to write about how this can be used to enhance students’ language development in a classroom as well as their acquisition of academic language, but I think that’s a topic for another day