Overcoming the Monolingual Bias


In my last post (Translanguaging: Establishing Some Foundations), I highlighted the monolingual bias in language education and discussed the importance of being strategic in employing translanguaging strategies, including through having clear guidelines for when it is appropriate. However, I feel that I did not adequately address the question of why it is important to challenge the monolingual principle in language education.

One of the foundational components of Creese and Blackledge’s study is the concept of language ecology. Language ecology has to do with to do with “the study of diversity within specific sociopolitical settings in which the processes of language use create, reflect, and challenge particular hierarchies” (p. 104). Chukly-Bonato (2016) notes that it involves a conscious shift to look at linguistic diversity as an asset rather than as a challenge to the nation-state (see also Language, Power, and Nation-Building). In other words, language ecology involves a deliberate repositioning of teachers to embrace and value linguistic diversity and the interconnectedness of languages (Chukly-Bonato, 2016).

This is a particularly important transition to make because of the close connections between language, identity, and social value (see Corson, 1993; Bourdieu & Thompson, 1991; Van Herk, 2012). Corson (1993) acknowledges that negative attitudes towards children’s home language can be harmful to their sense of self-worth and have negative effects on their performance. He stresses the need for teachers to accept the value of students’ home languages and dialects as a step in enabling them to succeed. Therefore, translanguaging strategies can be one way to validate students’ linguistic identities by accepting the value of their L1s. If Corson’s claim is true and devaluing these identities contributes to poor performance, then validating them should be a way to help students build confidence and ultimately experience more success with the target material.

Along with the monolingual bias, there are also a number of misconceptions that surround translanguaging and bilingual education. Kelly Ibanez (2016) has created the info-graphic pictured below to dispel some of those myths (click here to read the article).


If you take a good look, you will see a couple of things which we have been talking about. We have already been looking at the myth that languages should not be mixed; however, I would like to briefly clarify the myth that speaking multiple languages may confuse children.

O’Grady and Cho (2009) acknowledge that most children are born with a seemingly infinite capacity for language learning. They recognize that there seems to be a sort of critical period, or point after which language acquisition becomes progressively more difficult, stating that it is believed that “the ability to acquire a first language in an effortless and successful way begins to decline from age six and is severely compromised by the onset of puberty” (p. 367). VanPatten and Williams (2015) note that there is controversy over precisely what age is really the ‘cut-off point’ for achieving native-like proficiency (or whether there is one). However, the point to be taken here is that there is a multitude of evidence that shows that speaking multiple languages does not confuse children, at least not enough to keep them from gaining high levels of proficiency, as long as they begin learning well before they reach puberty.

Given the fact that allowing for translanguaging in the classroom can be an asset to students’ linguistic identity and development and that (until a certain age) they have the capacity to learn many languages, I hope that you now have a clearer idea of why it is that I think translanguaging should be explored. What do you think? If you are still skeptical, perhaps my next posts will help; in them, I will look at some specific strategies that have been used or encouraged and discuss how they might be applied.


Please note that the Ramblings of a Linguaphile site is currently being used for thesis research. Between June 14, 2017, and December 31, 2017, any comments made on posts to this site may be used for research purposes. The identity of the person who posted the comment will be kept anonymous. For more information about the study, please see the About page. By commenting, you consent to participate.



Bourdieu, P., & Thompson, J. B. (1991). Language and symbolic power. J. B. Thompson, Ed. (G. Raymond & M. Adamson, Trans.). Cambridge: Polity Press.

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

Corson, D. (1993). Language, minority education and gender: Linking social
justice and power. Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Creese, A. & Blackledge, A. (2010). Translanguaging in the bilingual classroom: A pedagogy for learning and teaching? The Modern Language Journal, 94 (i). Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.proxy3.library.mcgill.ca/stable/25612290.

O’Grady, W. & Cho, S. W. (2009). First language acquisition. Chapter 10 in O’Grady, W. & Archibald, J. (eds.), Contemporary linguistic analysis (6th ed.) (pp. 334-367). Toronto: Pearson Longman.

Van Herk, G. (2012). What is sociolinguistics? Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.

VanPatten, B. & Williams, J. (Eds.) (2015). Theories in second language acquisition: An introduction (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.




Ibanez, K. (July 25, 2016). Myth vs. fact: Bilingual language development. From The Hola Blog. Retrieved from http://www.theholablog.com/myth-vs-fact-bilingual-language-development.



Allmond, P. (2016). Three mindset challenges to improve your self confidence. From Stop doing nothing. Retrieved from https://stopdoingnothing.com/personal-growth/mindset-improve-self-confidence/.



8 thoughts on “Overcoming the Monolingual Bias

  1. This is another excellent post, and particularly topical, given that many schools are dealing with new Canadians. This kind of approach seems particularly appropriate for those students. I’m looking forward to your strategies for practical application in the classroom!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Terry! Yes, the reality is that with the increased global mobility of today, classrooms are becoming more and more culturally and linguistically diverse, and I feel that there is a huge need to start developing approaches that incorporate that diversity rather than trampling it.


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  5. Mela Sarkar

    There is NO doubt at all that babies surrounded by multiple languages will learn them as long as they get enough interaction in each! My own children and grandchildren are all the evidence I need, myself; reading this blog post, I wondered what else was out there, and found many sites with names like “multilingual children”, “bilingual parenting”…

    But Terry raises the point that we have to think about children whose first exposure comes well after babyhood; the new Canadians we meet, above, and in many other posts in this blog. I don’t myself think that anyone young enough to be in compulsory schooling is too old to learn other languages. But, as Jim Cummins pointed out time and time again over his 40-year-plus long career, older learners need a different kind of support.

    Younger learners need support too!

    Liked by 1 person

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