Voices from the Field: Encourage Translanguaging

In the November Voices from the Field series, Alexandra Ritt Gustad (EAL Coordinator for Pre-K - 12, American School of Bombay) and Esther Bettney (WIDA International Project Assistant) discuss translanguaging within international school contexts.

Seo-yoon, an early elementary learner in the EAL program, connects online with her multilingual classmates and gets ready to write a personal narrative. Using a translation app, her teacher translates the writing prompt to Korean to ensure Seo-yoon understands the instructions. Seo-yoon then sketches her ideas, labelling the sketches in English, and writing the body of the piece in Korean. Her teacher has the final piece translated into English and scores the work based on content knowledge, rather than English language proficiency.

Image of a phone screen with a conversation in both English and another language, next to an image of three people conversing in English and another language as shown in speech bubbles

What is translanguaging?

Translanguaging is the adaptable way in which multilingual people use their languages to communicate. It is the action and practice of using a person’s full linguistic repertoire to construct meaning. Translanguaging acknowledges that languages are interdependent and interchangeable; challenging the antiquated idea that multilingual learners have separate language systems which do not impact each other. This practice supports the intentional use of one language to leverage the acquisition of another language(s). The use of translanguaging in schools challenges assumptions that are rooted in linguistic inequality and monolingual policies and practices (e.g. English-only policies). Teachers may demonstrate translanguaging pedagogy as instructional strategies for learning, administrators may adhere to this pedagogy to convey a school-wide vision of linguistic inclusion, and multilingual students translanguage to enhance learning.

Why do we use translanguaging strategies?

When we use translanguaging strategies in schools, we communicate support for multilingualism; an asset-based view of the practices of culturally and linguistically diverse populations. When used as a part of instruction, translanguaging conveys the exercise of purposeful planning. When used within assessments, it demonstrates that multilinguals CAN understand and engage with grade-level content - as they can show their knowledge in their home language.

When a translanguaging pedagogy is adopted in schools, it conveys a belief in developing additive bilingualism/multilingualism, as many of the international schools following the International Baccalaureate programmes strongly support. When content is taught by incorporating the home language as a resource within instruction, students develop both the language of school and their home language, making rigorous content learning achievable. Translanguaging pedagogy highlights the development of multiple languages and shows respect for and attention to multilingual and multicultural identities; when this is accomplished, these beliefs become the norm, not the exception.

Trauma resulting from a post-COVID environment and the isolation of online learning makes it more crucial than ever for teachers to focus on social and emotional learning. The intentional use of the home language in virtual learning lowers the affective filter of multilingual students and makes learning more accessible. To explore more about how to support the social and emotional needs of your multilingual learners, visit the recent Voices from the Field article by Matt Hajdun and Esther Bettney, Build social-emotional support and maintain community.

How might we support a translanguaging pedagogy in our schools?
American School of Bombay logo and the text See Think Wonder followed by colorful squares with language other than English and images of an eye, a person thinking and a question mark with the text What do you see? What do you think is going on? and What does it make you wonder?

At the American School of Bombay (ASB), translanguaging beliefs and strategies are embedded throughout the curriculum and the culture. Students are encouraged to use their home language to engage with and process content. For example, in the online Jamboard activity pictured, instructions are provided visually in multiple languages. Through the chat function or virtual breakout rooms, students with the same home language can talk about their ideas in their home language, before sharing with the class in English.

Students in the earlier stages of language development can use their home language during online assessments. As students submit work virtually in their home language, community interpreters help teachers translate student work. This shows value in understanding whether or not a student understands grade-level content in any language, not only in English.

Translanguaging occurs in parent outreach, as well. For example, translation is available for both in person and virtual school presentations to provide access points for multilingual families, as shown in this slideshow. Schoolwide surveys show families are actively engaging with these translanguaging tools.

A map background with a centered white text box stating Translation Support for Multilingual Families by Alexandra Gustad, EAL Coordinator and Alex Johnson, Ed Tech Coordinator followed by three icons with flags and the words Click a flag to view resources in your preferred language and the American School of Bombay logo

How might we practice translanguaging strategies to enhance learning?

  • Create school and classroom environments that value and represent diverse cultures and languages
    • Multilingual and culturally diverse resources (texts, anchor charts, labels, multilingual word walls/word banks, journals, signs, greetings, songs, etc.)
    • Involve parents in sharing stories, traditions, and words/phrases in home languages through videos and joining online classrooms
    • Encourage families to discuss subject/concepts learned in school (e.g. units of inquiry) in their home language
    • Adopting an assets-based approach by getting to know your students’ linguistic and cultural strengths through student portraits and activities that highlight their multicultural and multilingual identities
  • Use technology tools to encourage translanguaging practices for both receptive and expressive use
    • Use online translators (Google Translate, Microsoft Translator and Immersive Reader, iTranslate, wordreference.com, etc.) to translate key vocabulary or transcribe text for online lessons and record lessons so students can listen to them again in their language of choice
    • Use multimedia reading resources in many languages such as Unite for Literacy, International Children’s Digital Library, and Global Storybooks Portal so students can read the text first in their home language, then in English
    • Provide research tools for students, such as EBSCO, Britannica School, and PowerKnowledge, which have translation and audio features
    • Have students engage in discussions in same-language groupings (such as in breakout rooms) for cooperative learning in their home language


Read more Voices from the Field

three students at a table working together

WIDA in Global Contexts

Learn how WIDA serves multilingual students, and how educators around the world use WIDA to improve teaching and learning.