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Translanguaging Like an Artist

Es cuando estoy leyendo (It’s when I’m reading) the book and soñando (dreaming) of other places.

Question for our multilingual friends: Have you ever felt that there is a word in one of your languages that just has the right “feel” to what you are trying to express–even if you are communicating in a different language? Perhaps your other languages just do not have the word with the exact connotation that you are looking for. Do you ever simply go back and forth between languages because that is your preferred means of communicating with different groups of people? This, friends, is translanguaging and I am here to applaud you for your language choices.

Translanguaging is the process of intentionally using words from different registers/languages in order to express oneself. Within the meaning of the parts of the word, trans means across or beyond and languaging refers to utilizing our means of communication. So, when we say that translanguaging is communicating beyond the bounds of language, it is a perfect way to view it.

In the past, translanguaging was referred to as “code switching” and was rather controversial. Some people claimed that it is a shortcut in language learning that is detrimental to progress (read: lazy). They claimed that relying too much on one’s dominant language would impede the acquisition or learning the target language. Others maintained that it helps language learners express themselves in ideas and concepts that may be beyond their language proficiency. It builds confidence in both expressing in the target language and understanding of content. Today, experts tend to agree with the latter, stating that this phase in language acquisition allows learners to produce language and communicate in whichever language comes naturally to them while acquiring additional languages.

Some people utilize translanguaging as they are acquiring a second language–and these people may be in your classes, teachers! This is not something to simply be tolerated; we must celebrate this ability, this movement. When people express their knowledge by leveraging all of the languages that they “own,” it is a true reflection of their individuality and language journey. Our multilingual learners most certainly have a vast amount of knowledge that they can share–but may or may not have the English yet to express it. As teachers, we do not assume that, because they do not have proficiency in English yet, they are not intelligent or capable of learning. We must acknowledge that our students should have the opportunity to express themselves however they can best communicate.

By encouraging our students to use translanguaging when they are communicating verbally or in writing, we are valuing all of their linguistic repertoires as an asset. As we keep discussing the growth mindset, this is the point at which we understand that there is more knowledge that learners have than what can be demonstrated by their command of English. They know many, many things and should not be relegated to communicating only what their target language proficiency allows. Translanguaging empowers learners as they take risks in producing words in the target language, even if these words are surrounded by words in their primary language. As they progress and add more words in the target language, confidence grows with vocabulary. Teachers who accept answers using translanguaging are supporting their students in both content understanding and language acquisition.

However, it’s not only about language learners! When speakers use translanguaging while communicating, this often does not indicate that they do not have proficiency in one language or another. It is not always part of a transition or acquisition of language. Rather, for many people, translanguaging is a way of expressing themselves, using the parts of whatever parts of their languages that fit their purpose at that moment. Translanguaging is a powerful, intentional, artful way to use language that transcends cultures and languages. This manner of communication provides a connection among speakers of the same languages–or opens the door to others who may not know one of the languages being used. Translanguaging provides access for others to experience and interact in languages other than their own.

When our students (multilingual learners or not) partake in this, they are participating in a process and a community of language speakers. People are using their voices to express themselves in an authentic way. And–much like artists–they construct linguistic creations that are beautiful and musical.

About the Author

Dr. Denise Furlong

Twitter: @denise_furlong

Instagram: @denisefurlong

Dr. Denise Furlong currently is working her dream job as a teacher educator for Georgian Court University in New Jersey. She has over 20 years experience teaching diverse learners and coaching their teachers in grades K-12. She lives at the Jersey Shore with her husband Tim, her kids (Ryan, Joey & Sarah), and their two dogs. You can connect with her on Twitter at @denise_furlong and Instagram at denisefurlong.

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