Translanguaging for Emerging Experts


In my last post (“Translanguaging for Dummies”), I talked about Cummins’ (2005) recommendation of using cognates as a translanguaging strategy. I love that idea, because it is a very simple way to acknowledge that languages do not need to be kept separate. Today, I will discuss translanguaging through translation.

Cummins’ (2005) second suggestion involves having students create dual language books or multimedia projects. He describes the Dual Language Showcase project, which was completed with bilingual students in Grades 1 and 2 in a highly diverse Toronto school. Students wrote and illustrated stories in English and then worked with relatives, friends, and fluent teachers to translate the stories to their home languages (Cummins, 2005). The stories were then typed or scanned (in cases of home languages for which fonts were not available) and put on a website, where family and friends across the world could read them. (If you would like to see the website, click here.)

Two of the purposes of the project was to make English vocabulary, grammatical structures, and story-telling conventions available to learners and parents and to encourage literacy activities that were accessible to parents who did not speak English (“Valuing multilingualism and multiculturalism”, n.d.). As The Dual Language Showcase website states, “promoting literacy development in students’ first language will facilitate the acquisition of literacy in English. Accessing prior knowledge through the use of their first language provides the framework for new learning” (“Valuing multilingualism and multiculturalism”, n.d.).

Cummins (2005) also comments on similar projects that have been done in other schools. Notably, in one case, students receiving ESL support from Grades 5-8 were asked to comment on whether or not writing in both English and their home language had aided them in their acquisition of English (Cummins, 2005). Three of the responses gave indication that “cross-language facilitation that can occur when a student’s LI is legitimated in the mainstream classroom” (Cummins, 2005, p. 589). In other words, their experience shows that validating students’ home languages by giving them a productive place in the classroom can have a positive effect on student’s acquisition of the target language (as I suggested in Overcoming the Monolingual Bias).

Cummins also mentions school programs that explored computer translation unnamedprograms. While he notes that platforms such as Google Translate are infamously limited in accuracy, he acknowledges that “this limitation provides students with the opportunity to work together (with input from the teacher) to edit the translation into appropriate and accurate language” (p. 589).

I find this interesting because I went through all of my undergraduate language studies being told that I should never use a translator, and yet I found it nearly impossible to complete all my work without looking up a few things. While it would be unproductive for students to lean too heavily on translation, they are going to use translators anyway, and so I think that language teachers need to work to come up with creative ways to productively incorporate them into class work.

For example, last year, I incorporated translation into my intermediate ESL vocabulary class. One time, I let my students collaborate to create their vocabulary list for a unit by giving them a brainstorming activity in which each one choose a certain number of relevant items that they didn’t already know in English and wanted to learn. Their homework was to find pictures of each item and search a dictionary or translator for the appropriate English word. I then compiled their lists and made some additions to create the unit’s word list. If I was to do this again, I would have each student be the expert on his or her group of words and present them to the class.

Mwinda and van der Walt (2015) also support the use of translation activities in the classroom, arguing (as does Canagarajah, 2011) that translanguaging practices that students already use “may be extended to support language and academic development” (Mwinda & van der Walt, 2015, p. 101). The authors cite Baker to claim that translanguaging strategies such as code switching and translation “can encourage learners to use their stronger language to develop proficiency in their weaker language” (p. 103).

Mwinda and van der Walt built on some of Creese and Blackledge’s suggested strategies for translanguaging (see Creese & Blackledge 2010) in order to begin to determine “responsible and focused” (as opposed to random) translanguaging practices in an English classroom where Rumanyo was students’ first language (L1). The authors also aimed to “determine the extent to which Rumanyo could be used to support the learning of English” (p. 104). Students were presented with topical vocabulary pictures with text in both languages, after which they were given texts to translate from Rumanyo to English and from English to Rumanyo (Mwinda & van der Walt, 2015). The results of the study suggest that Rumanyo (and by extension, any L1) “can become a resource rather than a barrier” to learning English, but only if teachers are careful to use the L1 carefully and intentionally, drawing attention to similarities and differences (Mwinda & van der Walt, 2015, p. 115).

It is clear that translation exercises can be another way to validate learners’ L1 and employ it as a scaffold to certain aspects of the L2, but it is also clear that intentionality and proper structuring are key. What kinds of activities can you think for using translation as a bridge between languages? How would you structure things so that these activities served their purpose in aiding students’ L2 development?


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Canagarajah, S. (September 01, 2011). Codemeshing in Academic Writing: Identifying Teachable Strategies of Translanguaging. Modern Language Journal, 95(3), pp. 401-417. 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

Cummins, J. (2005). A proposal for action: Strategies for recognizing heritage language competence as a learning resource within the mainstream classroom. Modern Language Journal, 89 (4), pp. 585–592. Retrieved from

Mwinda, N. & van der Walt, C. (2015). From ‘English-only’ to translanguaging strategies: Exploring possibilities. Per Linguam, 31(3), pp. 100-118. Retrieved from

(n.d.). Valuing multilingualism and multiculturalism. From The dual language showcase. Retrieved from



(2014). Exchanging ideas during job swap. From Inside Housing. Retrieved from

(2016). Google Translate. Retrieved from


3 thoughts on “Translanguaging for Emerging Experts

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

  2. Mela Sarkar

    I think incorporating translation into the L2 learning process is not just useful, but essential! I’m a deeply committed anglophone who NEEDS to translate back and forth into and out of the various languages I’ve tried to learn. To me it feels like putting on different clothes for the day and seeing which set gives the right effect.

    And (as a committed Sapir-Whorfian), I also think exact translation is impossible. But one only learns that by trying it out, over and over and over again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Tapping Into the First Language – Ramblings of a Linguaphile

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