I’ve been promising for years to write a post about pedagogical translanguaging. In fact, probably about five years! But I always get stuck in the details… I want to present it accurately, and really show how it works. So I created (with the help of Ollydave) this short explainer video, so people can have a 2-minute introduction to a complex topic. Click on the picture above and enjoy!
In the month of March, I had the privilege of presenting at three international events. The first was the ECIS ESL/MT conference (now the ECIS MLIE group). There I presented on using pedagogical translanguaging to support learning in international education. The second event was the CIS Symposium on Intercultural Learning (Amsterdam), where I presented in the Language as a Pathway to Intercultural Learning strand. My presentation at this event was focused again on translanguaging, this time as a way to bring students’ culture and prior knowledge into the classroom. The final event was the second CIS Symposium, Singapore, where I again presented (for LanguageOne) in the Language strand, with an analysis of models of MT/home language support in international schools, and ways forward for schools who want to engage better on this critical topic.
A recurring point of interest across all three events was the overview of audience members at language-related sessions. On the whole, the audience at these sessions was the “language people” from schools: EAL teachers, language teachers, MT/home language teachers, and mid-level coordinators: EAL coordinators, PYP coordinators, etc. So this leaves the question: Where are the school leaders? Where are the principals and heads of school? They are certainly at these events, but for some reason rarely choose the language-related sessions. This was especially apparent at the CIS Singapore event, which was in a strand-format – all participants stayed in their chosen strand for the two-day event. The strands on global citizenship and developing culturally competent leaders were the two strands where all the leadership-level participants were to be found.
So what’s up with that? Are the language-people not informative enough, funny enough, insightful enough to draw the school leaders? Everyone who attended our strands knows that this is of course not true! What is true, however, is that language is often thought of as a specialist topic in education (international and national). School leadership is often caught up in broader topics that seem to have more importance for the whole than EAL, home languages, other languages. This is a dangerous position to take however, as language is at the heart of everything we do in education; at the centre of identity, culture, communication, and most importantly, learning.
It is hard to argue that we are teaching the whole child when school policy dictates that the students leave their language and culture at the schoolhouse door.
- J. Cummins et al. (2005)
It is true that language people are not always good at publicity and marketing – we know we have a lot of key information that all teachers, administrators and parents need to know. But we’re not always good at getting our message out there in accessible ways.
In order to do some awareness-raising of the complex and critical issue of languages in schools, I’m starting a new blog series, entitled “Spotlight on good practice“. I’d like to do a regular profile of an activity, teacher, school, leader, program (twice a month), to share what is already happening in our schools that we can be proud of, and hope that this will encourage wider awareness outside the language people of how languages can be used in our schools to either empower or disempower our students, and the resulting effects on culture, character, and learning.
The series will start with examples of good practice from schools I have worked with, but I would be delighted to hear from my readers – parents, teachers, (hopefully) school leaders – about examples of good practice relating to any aspect of languages in schools – EAL/ELL, home languages, host country languages, foreign languages. If you have a story to share, for yourself or for your school or your children’s school, please email me at email@example.com
Looking forward to hearing about all your success stories!
Over the weekend, I spent many hours running the canteen at an Irish dance “Feis”. My daughter is a dancer, and every year they host a competition, attracting dancers from various parts of Europe. Over the weekend, I spoke to people from Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Finland, England, Ireland, the US and Canada. The most satisfying part of the experience was being able to help people in their own language. People say that English is the global language, and that if you speak English you don’t need anything else. I disagree, and this weekend was a good example of why. When people approached my canteen counter, I could often tell they were hesitant to order – worried about which language to use, and not wanting to get it wrong. I quickly figured out that the best way to put them at ease was to offer “English, francais or nederlands?”. I only speak a little German, but there was a German woman helping out and she took over the German side of things. It was such an amazing experience to see how people relax and feel more at ease when someone offers them linguistic options – and communication becomes an act of inclusion rather than exclusion when both people are making an effort.
But watching my daughter do the same was equally moving as well – she speaks English and French fluently and her Dutch is reasonably good, but she is shy about using it. Having the opportunity to use all three languages, sometimes in the same conversation was something that really brought home to her how lucky she is to have the opportunity to be multilingual, and how powerful it can be to speak to people in their own languages, rather than always through the medium of English.
The whole event was surrounded by an impressive linguistic atmosphere, with people speaking in many languages, and moving back and forth between them to achieve the best communication. Germans speaking French with Belgians, and Belgians speaking English with Italians and so many other combinations. It led me to reflect, once again, on the idea of “translanguaging” in bilingualism. Once we move past our ideas that a language is static and must be used as such, we realize that language is infinitely changeable and malleable and that we can do whatever we want with it to promote communication and inclusion. Seeing translanguaging in action was a brief insight into what communication could be like if we all make an effort to use the languages of people around us.
Next week: An introduction to translanguaging for bilingual education and bilingual families.