4 Steps to Get Started With Translanguaging

It can be challenging to move from a mostly monolingual English classroom to a more multilingual, inclusive one. However, the lasting impact is well worth the changes in classroom practice. Last month, Naashia Mohamed wrote a compelling case to incorporate translanguaging in the classroom in her post, “3 Ways to Harness the Power of Translanguaging.” Mohamed’s post contains a clear explanation of translanguaging along with a strong rationale for its use in the classroom with some handy classroom tips. To recap, translanguaging is the practice of using all the language resources available to you, integrating two or more languages in order to communicate and learn.

In the classroom, translanguaging often happens naturally as the learning occurs, but you can also create planned translanguaging opportunities for your students. This article focuses on some practical ways on how to create a translanguaging friendly classroom environment. Here are four steps you can take:

1. Promote Benefits of Translanguaging With Your Students

The first step to translanguaging in the classroom is to explicitly set a positive and inclusive tone in your classroom. Show videos or read articles on the benefits of bilingualism—and there are so many benefits! If you are bilingual, share some of your language with your class. If you are not bilingual, try learning some of your students’ language; show your students that you can also learn and make mistakes.

One important thing to remember when changing your practice to incorporate translanguaging is to respect students’ own language choices, and that means being allowed to choose when and if they use their first language. This should especially be the case in classroom environments where you are making a dramatic shift in policy or practice or in environments where students are taking a social risk in using their first languages. Once this groundwork is laid, finding opportunities to build in translanguaging in writing is more effective.

2. Choose a Writing Task That Can Be Easily Multilingual

Certain writing tasks, where the purpose of using two or more languages is clear, may make it easier for your students to start translanguaging in your classroom. Here are some ideas for writing tasks that lend themselves to multilingualism.

  • Poetry has many styles and structures to play with that are easily made multilingual, such as poems in two voices, which are poems written as dialogue or a back and forth between two people, animals, or objects. For example, if a poem is a dialogue that takes place between a person and an object, place, or animal with cultural significance. Students could consider if they would like to incorporate other languages into this dialogue and how they might do that. Other poetry might include biographical poetry (“I Am” poems) or simply freestyle poetry where students are encouraged to experiment with language.
  • Awareness campaign materials, such as brochures and social media material, can be useful. When discussing the task, support the students in understanding the purpose of the text and the language choices a writer might make. For example, if students want to make a social media poster to help their South Asian community understand the Black Lives Matter movement, what language choices might best help accomplish this task? What would be the benefits of using some Hindi in my poster?
  • Advertisements are very similar to awareness campaigns in terms of students needing to understand the audience that the advertisements are aimed at.
  • Personal narratives are a wonderful tool for self-expression that can be used at any age level. There are many excellent models of multilingual personal narratives out there.

3. Create Opportunities for Translanguaging in the Writing Process

In the brainstorming and planning phase of writing a text, ask students to brainstorm and write ideas in any language. This could be in the form of a mind map, outline, planning guide, and so on.

Before writing their text in English, nonfiction or fiction, ask students partner up and retell their text orally in their first languages.

4. Provide Real-World Models

Literary texts that blend languages can be a beautiful insight into other people’s multilingual experiences. These texts help young, multilingual writers view themselves in literature, and by reading these stories, they can see that translanguaging can exist in a final product as well as in a process.

The following texts are great engaging models of translanguaging in fiction that I’ve used with my own middle and high school classes.

  • The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros, a novel written in vignettes that tells a coming-of-age story of a young Mexican-American girl
  • American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang, a satirical and poignant graphic novel that explores the theme of cultural identity
  • The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu, a heart-wrenching, magical short story of a bicultural man discovering a piece of his past
  • Search for My Tongue” by Sujata Bhatt, a powerful poem about her bilingual identity and her first language
  • Names/Nombres” by Julia Alvarez, a personal essay about the author’s immigration and the importance of names

Do you have more ideas for diverse texts in your classroom? What other ideas do you have for translanguaging in writing? Please share your ideas in the comments below.


About Hetal Ascher

Hetal Ascher
Hetal Ascher is currently Head of EAL Programs at Dulwich College Beijing. She serves on the steering committee of the TESOL Reading and Vocabulary Interest Section and on the Professional Development Professional Council. She is passionate about literacy for English learners, multilingualism, and anti-racist pedagogy.
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3 Responses to
4 Steps to Get Started With Translanguaging

  1. john says:

    I taught in Early Childhood Centres in New Zealand, where many children’s picture books (local ones in particular) are printed in bilingual English and te reo Maori editions – since I had learned te reo in nightclasses I was able to read either or even both versions of the story in a storytime session – I would generally first read the English for a new story, but eventually I could read either version and the children would happily listen and read along. Younger children who are very early or pre-readers will often memorise a story – hearing them memorise both language versions occurred quite often. Popular songs with different language versions also have a similar effect (such as ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ – or, a step up – ‘Let it Go’).

  2. Leanne Ireland says:

    When I was at an Australian international school, we taught a book called ‘ growing up Asian in Australia’ which had short stories from people from all over Asia and their experiences as migrants or refugees, or as their children . It was a set text for the VCE and may have some useful stories to use as translanguaged texts

  3. Sarah Kupke says:

    Thank you for sharing these very practical and contextually relevant suggestions for embedding translanguaging in classrooms practices Hetal. Another resource I also found helpful is this one from Tank Huynh https://tankhuynh.com/translanguaging/ . His webinar recording with Virginia Rojas is also excellent. Your ideas for getting started, open the door to professional curiosity about why we do what we do. Readers may also be interested in joining the free ECIS meet up this coming Thursday. Check it out! https://www.ecis.org/events/mlie-meetups-host-country-language/

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