Translanguaging: Establishing Some Foundations


In my last post (Translanguaging in the L2 Classroom), I discussed research that suggests that translanguaging, or allowing learners’ languages to be used together during the process of acquisition, has potential as a teaching strategy. In this post, I address some common attitudes about translanguaging and suggest some things to consider before employing it in the classroom.

You may have reservations about translanguaging, perhaps imagining a classroom full of students who aren’t learning the target language because they are switching to their first language (L1) too often. As an ESL teacher, I am acutely aware of the pressure to get students through the levels in a timely fashion. I feel responsible for my students’ progress, and student and parental expectations as well as trying to meet ‘universal’ standards adds to the pressure (my school uses the Common European Framework of Reference, requiring students to succeed with specific benchmarks to complete each level of our program). Because of this, I can understand if the thought of allowing languages to “leak into one another” (Creese & Blackledge, 2010, p. 106) causes your heart to flutter a little.

Many of the feelings I’ve described above stem from what Chukly-Bonato (2016) refers to as “the monolingual principle” (p. 16ff.). My last post alluded to the fact that many educators and administrators expect students’ languages to be kept strictly separated. Creese and Blackledge (2010) acknowledge several studies that show that teachers have tended to disapprove of translanguaging and that both teachers and students often feel guilty when they do employ it. According to the authors, it is “rarely institutionally endorsed or pedagogically underpinned” (p. 105). This suggests that my problems with students using their first language unproductively (see my previous post) are not the fault of the act of translanguaging itself, but rather they highlight that I was never encouraged to use it and that I had not received training to use it as a strategic tool. My attitude was aligned with the monolingual principle.

Martin (2005) describes how the monolingual principle is also seen in existing curriculum and language planning, acknowledging that teachers face pressure from administrators and curriculum which hold a monolingual standard and “regard code-switching as a substandard form of communication in the classroom” (p. 89). Therefore, surrounded by monolingual mindsets, the idea of using translanguaging as a teaching strategy may be intimidating. However, knowing that it is a potential asset to our instructional toolkits, it is worth working to dismantle monolingual biases. Indeed, that is one of the aims of the approaches described by Creese and Blackledge. One thing that may aid making a compelling case for translanguaging is to come up with well thought out plans for how to employ it productively.

An important first step stressed by Martin (2005) is to question “whether bilingual interaction strategies ‘work’ in the classroom” (p. 90) whether they are useful to students and facilitate learning, and whether classroom translanguaging supports exploratory talk and communication. To me, this means that teachers should approach classroom translanguaging with careful forethought and planning. A first step would be to consider the context and purpose of the activity. What is the target of the lesson? Which types of translanguaging may distract or hold students back from achieving the goal? How might translanguaging be used to aid in the acquisition of the target material? When is it permissible for students to use their L1s?

If I am going to teach a lesson on food vocabulary, allowing the students to use their L1s for the food items probably won’t advance their learning. However, if I show them a picture of a type of food that is not familiar to them and offer an explanation in English, it may build on their understanding if I allow for some discussion of the word’s translation and meanings in their L1. I have found this sort of translanguaging particularly useful in discussions about the subtle differences between feelings, such as frustration and annoyance.

Whatever the objectives of the lesson, it is also important to establish clear boundaries for appropriate translanguaging. In one of their classroom extracts, Creese and Blackledge acknowledge that the students “sense the limits of what is acceptable in terms of the use of one language in relation to the other… [They] are aware of their teacher’s expectations” (p. 110). In other words, the students knew when they should and shouldn’t draw from their L1.

When I return to teaching, I intend to set out some clear guidelines for classroom translanguaging. For example, students may use their L1 to help each other better understand material, but they do not need to use it to visit or joke around during class. In other words, they may use their L1s in ways that serve to aid their learning process for the target language.

In my next post, I will continue this discussion, describing some specific translanguaging approaches and activities that have been suggested, but first, I’d like to hear from you. What guidelines would you set to foster productive target language learning if you intended to use translanguaging as a teaching strategy?


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Chukly-Bonato, K. (2016). Transferring knowledge through translanguaging: The art of multilingualizing the foreign language classroom. Retrieved from

Creese, A. & Blackledge, A. (2010). Translanguaging in the bilingual classroom: A pedagogy for learning and teaching? The Modern Language Journal, 94 (i). Retrieved from

Martin, P. (2005). “Safe” language practices in two rural schools in Malaysia: Tensions between policy and practice. In A. M. Lin & P. W. Martin (Eds.), Decolonisation, globalisation: Language-in-education policy and practice (pp. 74–97). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

(2014). Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR). From Council of Europe. Retrieved from


(n.d.). Best practices with experience: Lessons from a BL build! Retrieved from

5 thoughts on “Translanguaging: Establishing Some Foundations

  1. Pingback: Overcoming the Monolingual Bias | Ramblings of a Linguaphile

  2. Pingback: “Translanguaging for Dummies” | Ramblings of a Linguaphile

  3. Pingback: Language is Messy (Concluding Thoughts on Translanguaging) | Ramblings of a Linguaphile

  4. Mela Sarkar

    I have a feeling that this business of figuring out what guidelines would work “to foster productive target language learning if one intends to use translanguaging as a teaching strategy” is just getting off the ground NOW…and that readers of this blog have front-row seats at the airstrip! Chukly-Bonato’s recent M.A. thesis is another good example of just how current and timely this work is. How exciting to see a link to it here.

    Liked by 1 person

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