Language is Messy (Concluding Thoughts on Translanguaging)


Throughout my last couple of posts, I focused on the practical end of using translanguaging as a teaching strategy. Today I will offer one more of Cummins’ (2005) strategies and wrap up the translanguaging discussion (for now).

In addition to the suggestions described in “Translanguaging for Dummies” and Translanguaging for Emerging Experts, Cummins also recommends using sister class projects as a bilingual instructional strategy to enable students to “bring their languages into productive contact” and communicate to them “that their L1 proficiency is an important accomplishment that is acknowledged and appreciated within the classroom” (p. 588).

Sister class projects entail that students virtually interact with students of other language backgrounds from other parts of the world, and the two groups collaborate, using two or more languages to “create literature and art in or to explore issues of social relevance to them and their communities” (Cummins, 2005, p. 590). Cummins claims that this sort of activity, which provides students with opportunities to explore their community and cultural histories, helps to motivate students to engage in language learning and language maintenance activities. The exact way in which these projects are mediated and accomplished is left somewhat unclear, so for now I am just leaving them as food for thought.

If you have been following my posts, you will have noticed that I’ve devoted a lot of time to the topic of translanguaging. To be honest, I had originally intended to make shorter posts about a wider range of topics, but as I delved into translanguaging, I realized that it is really important. As a teaching strategy, it has the potential to help counter many of the problematic themes that have been woven throughout all of my posts up until now – problems related to identity that come when students’ home languages and dialects are devalued in the classroom, as well as problems such as language bias, linguistic inequality, and the disadvantages these cause for students who don’t happen to have the “right” linguistic background (if you’d like to look at some of these posts, see the list at the end of this post).

García, Sylvan, and Witt (2011) articulate the importance of translanguaging in all of these areas beautifully in the following passage:

“In the 21st century, as classrooms become more
and more linguistically diverse, the greatest chal-
lenge will be how to educate all students equi-
tably and meaningfully. Imposing one school stan-
dardized language without any flexibility of norms
and practices will always mean that those students
whose home language practices show the greatest
distance from the school norm will always be dis-
advantaged. Clearly, monolingual education is no
longer relevant in our globalized world.” (p. 398)

If teachers, policy planners, and school systems desire to break ground in building equitable practices in education, a major shift is required away from replacive, monolingual education.

I have already mentioned Fishman’s (1999) description of additive versus replacive teaching (see What’s the Standard?). García et al. (2011), discuss additive versus subtractive teaching in a similar way; however, they note that both models assume that there is a linear relationship in which one language moves forward or backward. They also comment that both involve a conception of “two autonomous languages- an L1 and an L2- and of bilinguals as two monolinguals within one individual” (p. 387). To move away from monolingual ways of thinking, the authors outline a more recent theoretical shift toward dynamic bilingualism, which “refers to the development of different language practices to varying degrees in order to interact with increasingly multilingual communities in a global world” (p. 388).

This leads us to one aspect of translanguaging that I have underemphasized up until now, as I attempted to make a case for its use based primarily on learning outcomes. Nearly all of the authors I have cited in my discussion emphasize that language is highly social. Languages are not a one- or two-dimensional equations which learners memorize and then apply without altering. Rather, they are “a series of social practices that are embedded in a web of social relations…” (García et al., 2011, p. 389). Language is an act and a tool which speakers use to position themselves in relation to those they interact with (Van Herk, 2012). We use language to make friends, get jobs, and influence how people see us… and yet in language classrooms, this reality tends to be deemphasized.

A multilingual person is not one person with a clearly delineated category for each language. This is why translanguaging occurs and why it’s important to allow some room in our thinking to value multicompetence to whatever degree it occurs (see Teachers are Learners Too… for my discussion of multicompetence). Language is a tool in positioning ourselves socially- one that is increasingly receiving recognition. I have presented some ideas for how teachers could start to think about using translanguaging as a teaching strategy, but I hope that my posts have also inspired you to see the language learning process in a new light- one in which it’s not just about learning a system of rules, but rather, it is about the social process of languaging, in which bilinguals should be “valued for their differing multicompetence” rather than made to feel inadequate for their flaws (García et al., 2011, p. 389).

There are few absolute lines in language, and there is no way to use it that is the right answer for all circumstances. In short, language- and language teaching/learning- is messy. And that’s kind of the beauty of it. 🙂

If you have thoughts or questions about my posts or the topics I’ve discussed, please feel free to comment!


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.



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

Fishman, J, A. (Ed.). (1999). Handbook of language & ethnic identity. New York: Oxford University Press.

García, O., Sylvan, C. E., & Witt, D. (2011). Pedagogies and practices in multilingual classrooms: singularities and pluralities. The Modern Language Journal, 95 (3), pp. 385-400. Retrieved from

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


(2016). Maps. From Imagekind. Retrieved December 29, 2016, from

A list of previous posts sorted by themes with which they overlap

Validating linguistic identity:

Teachers are Learners Too: Identity and Linguistic Insecurity in the Second Language Classroom

Language, Power, and Nation-Building

Interacting with Linguistic Capital and Teacher Agency

What’s the Standard?

Translanguaging in the L2 Classroom

Overcoming the Monolingual Bias

Linguistic bias and language policy:

Overcoming the Myth of Neutrality

Language, Power, and Nation-Building

Oppression, Power, and Policy In the Classroom

Interacting with Linguistic Capital and Teacher Agency

What’s the Standard?

Translanguaging: Establishing Some Foundations

Overcoming the Monolingual Bias

One thought on “Language is Messy (Concluding Thoughts on Translanguaging)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s