Bringing Translanguaging into Dual Language Education Programs

Blog Post
April 2, 2019

¿Qué es translanguaging? And what does it mean for bilingual education?

Translanguaging is the process by which bilingual students use their languages in conjunction and rather than keeping them separate. Dr. Ofelia García, a professor of Urban Education and of Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures (LAILAC) at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, suggests that bilingual students should be able to translanguage in the classroom—that is, they should be able to use both of their languages to communicate what they know and can do.

Translanguaging happens fluidly in the classroom, but teachers can also support translanguaging by intentionally guiding students to use all of their linguistic abilities. For example, teachers can ask students to write stories with bilingual characters who use both of their languages. The intentionality behind this teaching practice is to provide a flexible and comfortable space for students to fully share what they know across all of their languages.

However, translanguaging is often not promoted within dual language education (DLE) programs. Many DLE programs emphasize strict language allocation policies that limit the use of the partner language during English time and vice versa.

And that is a limitation, as García and co-authors María Teresa (Maite) Sánchez and Cristian Solorza point out in an article published in the Bilingual Research Journal. They argue that DLE programs should support the use of translanguaging in the classroom and highlight the need for “language allocation that more coherently reflects the dynamic nature of bilingualism.”

DLE programs compartmentalize and protect separate instruction in the partner language and English largely by design. Specifically, all DLE programs split language instruction based on time allocations. The 90/10 model starts in kindergarten and provides instruction in the partner language for 90 percent of the day and in English 10 percent of the day. Then the English language increases gradually until it reaches 50 percent at the upper elementary grade levels. The 50/50 model provides instruction equally in the partner language and English. These strict language allocation policies may limit opportunities for students, teachers, and administrators to use translanguaging practices in the classroom.

Sánchez, García and Solorza suggest that language allocation policies that offer more flexibility to incorporate translanguaging practices could work within existing DLE program models.

To that end, they propose that programs adopt a translanguaging allocation policy that includes three components:

  1. Translanguaging documentation
  2. Translanguaging rings
  3. Translanguaging transformative spaces

The translanguaging documentation component provides teachers the opportunity to gather evidence that can be used to holistically assess students’ linguistic abilities and academic development. Specifically through translanguaging documentation, teachers are able to assess and recognize the creative and dynamic ways their students are learning and applying language. This information can then be used by teachers to inform and modify classroom instruction.

Translanguaging rings are instructional strategies that help teachers build on students’ home languages to enhance their learning experiences. This can include helping students understand how their languages are connected. For example, students can discuss the commonalities that exist between their home languages and English by identifying cognates or words that have similar spelling, pronunciation, and meaning (such as ciencia/science) during a reading lesson.

Finally, the creation of translanguaging transformative spaces allows students to be themselves and to speak the way they do outside of school. In these spaces, students’ multilingual practices are recognized and celebrated. Importantly, students are also provided with the opportunity to critically question instances when their full language abilities have been constrained and delegitimized in their educational experiences. And this can be very eye-opening for them.

Rethinking language allocation in DLE programs that include more translanguaging practices will require administrators and teachers to shift not only their practice, but also their understanding around how languages work together to support students’ learning. Program leaders and teachers must consider how to integrate translanguaging—regardless of the language allocation model they currently implement. Targeted professional development on translanguaging pedagogical practices is therefore needed for both school leaders and teachers.

Taken together, by elevating and validating the use of translanguaging within DLE classrooms, bilingual students are empowered to use all of their language abilities to support their learning.

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Related Topics
Dual Language Learners English Learners