The Deliverance of Bilingual Education: Translanguaging

Educating Children in a Sheltered Environment

"What is translanguaging?
Translanguaging refers to the language practices of bilingual people. If you’ve ever been present in the home of a bilingual family, you will notice that many language practices are used. Sometimes the children are speaking one language, and the parents another, even to each other! Often both languages are used to include friends and family members who may not speak one language or the other, and to engage all. If a question is asked, and someone gets up to consult Google for the answer, family members write in the search box items in one or another language, and often in both, to compare answers from different sites. In an English-Spanish bilingual home the television might be tuned into an English-language channel, while the radio may be blasting a Spanish-language show. But if you listen closely to the radio program, you will notice that the call-ins are not always in Spanish. Sometimes they’re in English only, with the radio announcer negotiating the English for the Spanish-speaking audience. But many times, the radio announcer also reflects the language practices of a bilingual speaker, with features of Spanish and English fluidly used to narrate an event, explain a process, inform listeners, or sell a product. Indeed what is taking place in this bilingual family, their flexible use of their linguistic resources to make meaning of their lives and their complex worlds, is what we call translanguaging.

But isn’t translanguaging what others call “code-switching”?
Absolutely not! Notice that translanguaging is not simply going from one language code to another. The notion of code-switching assumes that the two languages of bilinguals are two separate monolingual codes that could be used without reference to each other. Instead, translanguaging posits that bilinguals have one linguistic repertoire from which they select features strategically to communicate effectively. That is, translanguaging takes as it starting point the language practices of bilingual people as the norm, and not the language of monolinguals, as described by traditional usage books and grammars.

What is the relationship of translanguaging to language?

Translanguaging takes the position that language is action and practice, and not a simple system of structures and discreet sets of skills. That’s why translanguaging uses an –ing form, emphasizing the action and practice of languaging bilingually.

Isn’t translanguaging a temporary discourse practice out of which people transition when they’re fully bilingual?

Absolutely not. There are no balanced bilinguals that use their languages in exactly the same ways. Rather bilinguals adapt their language practices to the particular communicative situation in which they find themselves in order to optimize communication and understanding. As with the family at the beginning of this Question/Answer section, translanguaging is the norm in bilingual families. And bilingual families do not stop translanguaging.

Is translanguaging a valid discursive practice?

Indeed. The most important language practice of bilinguals now and especially in the future is their ability to use language fluidly, to translanguage in order to make meaning beyond one or two languages. Translanguaging builds the flexibility in language practices that would make students want to try out other language practices, increasing the possibilities of becoming multilingual.
Translanguaging is not something that those who do not know do. It does not connote ignorance, or alien status, or foreignness. On the contrary. translanguaging is a language practice of the many bilingual American students in our classrooms." ( Garcia 2011)

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National Association for Language Development In the Curriculm (NALDIC) 17 Ofelia Garcia Reimagining Bilingualism in Education for the 21st Century

Uploaded by NALDICvideo on Dec 9, 2009


Presented : September 23, 2012

Ofelia Garcia Video One

Professor Ofelia Garcia from City University New York delivers the keynote speech at NALDIC's 17th Annual Conference on 14 November 2009 at the University of Reading. NALDIC is indebted to Ofelia for her kind permission to share her inspiring presentation with a wider audience.

Ofelia Garcia Video Two

In the second part of her presentation to NALDIC 17 'Reimagining bilingualism in education for the 21st century' , Ofelia Garcia of City University New York, explains the concept of translanguaging, that is, the multiple discursive practices of students and teachers which characterize multilingual classrooms today. In this extract she discusses translanguaging in everyday life.

Ofelia Garcia Video Three

In the third part of her presentation to NALDIC 17 'Reimagining bilingualism in education for the 21st century' , Ofelia Garcia of City University New York, discusses children's perspective on translanguaging.

Ofelia Garcia Video Four

In the fourth part of her presentation 'Reimagining bilingualism in education for the 21st century' , Ofelia Garcia of City University New York discusses translanguaging in the classroom context.

Ofelia Garcia Video Five

In the final part of her presentation 'Reimagining bilingualism in education for the 21st century' , Ofelia Garcia of City University New York discusses translanguaging in the classroom context and how it is part of a very complex dynamic bilingual repetoire.


Garcia, O., & Leiva, C. (2012). Theorizing and Enacting Translanguaging for Social Justics. Heteroglossia as practice and Pedagogy. 1-30.

"Shouldn’t English only be used to teach English? Shouldn’t Spanish only be used when teaching Spanish?

For many years this was the assumption. And this assumption has been the basis of many bilingual education and English as a second language programs. But in the last two decades, international research has conclusively established that new language practices only emerge in interrelationship with old language practices. Thus, bilingual education programs, as well as English as a second language programs, are creating opportunities for students to use their entire linguistic repertoire and not just part of it to develop bilingualism and/or develop language practices that conform to the academic uses of language in school, as well as to learn rigorous content.

How does translanguaging as a pedagogical tool affirm the identities of bilingual students?

A bilingual person is not two monolinguals in one, with each language linked to a separate culture. Instead a bilingual person is one person with complex language and cultural practices that are fluid and changing depending on the particular situation and the local practice. Translanguaging supports the ability of bilingual students to have multiple identities that are not exactly like those constructed in monolingual contexts or in other contexts. It actually buttresses the multiple and fluid identities of bilingual students.

Why is translanguaging particularly effective with bilingual students?

Bilingual students’ language practices, in English or their home languages, are often stigmatized. For example, many US Latino students are told that they speak “Spanglish,” connoting poor command of the language, when the features that US Latinos display may have more to do with normal contact with English. Translanguaging permits students’ and teachers’ to acknowledge and use the full range of linguistic practices of bilinguals, and to use these practices for improved teaching and learning.

How does translanguaging help students develop metalinguistic awareness?

Putting language practices alongside each other makes possible for students to explicitly notice language features, an awareness needed to develop linguistic abilities."