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4 Ways Translanguaging Helps ESL Students Learn English

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There are numerous “tried and true” methods and techniques for teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). Yet, many emerging approaches are also proving effective and gaining traction in advanced ESL teacher preparation programs.

For example, take the Master of Education, Curriculum and Instruction (M.Ed. C&I) online program from the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM). This program combines traditional ESL approaches with a distinct and intentional focus on the social and cultural aspects of language acquisition.

According to program literature, students in ULM’s M.Ed. C&I – ESL online program explore the “interrelated nature of language and culture and the development of sociolinguistic competence in first and second language acquisition.” Additionally, the program supports the emerging ESL methodology called “translanguaging” in discussion with the multicultural, multifaceted conception of language use and acquisition.

In an article for the Heinemann Blog, Drs. Carla España and Luz Yadira Herrera define translanguaging as “when a multilingual person’s full linguistic repertoire is used and honored, instead of trying to keep narrowly focused on a single language.” Translanguaging is a common, natural practice for many people in any multilingual environment.

Translanguaging is both a theory and a pedagogical approach. In translanguaging theory, multilingual people do not possess separate, autonomous language systems in their minds. Rather, as the authors of A Pedagogy of Translanguaging explain, “the bilingual [or multilingual] mind is seen as a holistic system that contains diverse linguistic resources, employed as needed for different communicative purposes.”

Given this, translanguaging pedagogies strive to move past strict language separation and narrow, single-language use in schools. Instead, embracing translanguaging in schools involves intentionally incorporating and encouraging flexible language use, valuing and leveraging the entirety of each student’s linguistic repertoire.

Translanguaging in the classroom can help any student develop more fluid linguistic skills while normalizing multicultural experiences and fostering cultural competence. However, ESL leaders must emphasize the particular importance of translanguaging for English language learners (ELLs) in today’s schools. Here are four areas in which translanguaging can benefit these students:

1. Language Acquisition and Learning New Content

In an article by HMH, Drs. Yvonne and David Freeman explain that a first language is an essential resource and tool for students learning a new language. They write, “a student’s home language can serve as a scaffold in the process of acquiring additional languages and a scaffold for learning academic content in the new language.”

Using first language vocabulary to define and understand new concepts helps students explore and comprehend new vocabulary and ideas. This can help students grasp the meanings of new words with more context and a deeper level understanding. It also facilitates the application of knowledge students already have to what they are learning in various subjects.

2. Peer-to-Peer Collaboration, Relationships and Learning

Translanguaging in the classroom encourages multilingual interactions and collaboration between peers. Multilingual students who already have strong English skills can be excellent resources and help their early learning ELL peers with language acquisition.

The relationships these interactions foster can bolster a student’s sense of community and comfort with trying new language skills. Interacting with peers who have experienced a similar language learning curve can normalize an ELL’s experience and help them overcome challenges with language acquisition and progress.

Notably, this can also be of great help to teachers, especially those who are not fluent in their students’ first languages. It can create a supportive, collaborative environment where every classroom member is involved with teaching and learning.

3. Student Comfort, Self-Efficacy and Engagement in the Classroom

Translanguaging can make a student feel more comfortable and at ease in other ways. It shows students that their prior experience, knowledge, first language and background are respected and valued equally by those in their new environment.

Plus, by the fundamental nature of translanguaging, students are encouraged to participate in any way they can, using all their linguistic skills. This builds self-efficacy and engenders classroom engagement. Participation and engagement cyclically drive more motivation and learning.

4. School-Home-Community Engagement

Drs. España and Herrera note that engaging family, caregivers and community members as “language partners” is an essential aspect of translanguaging in teaching. This support can help a student’s community outside of school know their contributions are important and valued.

Improved school-home-community engagement can result in additional support for ELLs in language acquisition, education and their general development. It can also engender more consistency and positivity regarding language acquisition and respect for peers’ first languages and cultures.

Translanguaging can be a critical component of rich learning experiences for all students, especially ELLs. By studying concepts like translanguaging through culturally responsive ESL master’s programs like that at ULM, educators can learn how to better help their students acquire new languages. Moreover, in assisting colleagues to understand and incorporate translanguaging pedagogy, these teachers can support student success throughout their educational experiences.

Learn more about the University of Louisiana Monroe’s online Master of Education, Curriculum and Instruction program.

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