Translanguaging: A plea for reconciliation between research traditions

The pedagogical concept of ‘translanguaging’ is interpreted in different ways. Finding this problematic, MacSwan attempts to reconcile some of the different interpretations within and between research traditions. He argues that this fragmentation of the term has to do with an unrecognized difference between ideology and idealization. In other words, educational and linguistic researchers may not always distinguish between what is desirable for children and education, on the one hand, and actual linguistic and pedagogic realities, on the other hand.

Translanguaging was coined as a pedagogical concept for schools to open up to the multilingualism of their pupils. Because multilingual individuals constantly mix and cross boundaries between languages – in their brains as well as in communication – languages should not be treated as separate entities in learning. Rather than teachers excluding languages that they do not themselves speak, translanguaging in the classroom can integrate pupils’ languages and empower them to use their entire linguistic repertoire for learning.

This idea of translanguaging is a pedagogic ideology, MacSwan states. Research invites educational practitioners to permit children to use language as they do in their community.

Despite being socially and politically relevant, MacSwan maintains that this translanguaging ideology makes incorrect assumptions. The notion advocated by translanguaging researchers that there are no boundaries between languages in multilingual repertoires is contradicted by the psychologically real representation of languages in the brain and in social talk. Evidence has shown that some kind of boundaries between languages do exist. Moreover, the denial of such boundaries hampers research, as named languages cannot be ignored from an analytic viewpoint.

In conclusion, from a pedagogical viewpoint, translanguaging research invites educational practitioners to take children´s linguistic resources seriously and to see the mixing of languages as something harmless. MacSwan recognizes and embraces this. He agrees that multilinguals have single repertoires, but that they have diverse mental grammars. He therefore proposes an integrated multilingual perspective on translanguaging which would serve to harmonize fragmented research traditions: Translanguaging research should continue but leave out the assumption that languages do not exist as separate entities. Through this model, findings from multilingual and translanguaging research can be combined and reconciled, and may even concretize pedagogical ideologies. After all, they share the common objective of wanting to support multilingual children in a monolingual world.

Anouk Ticheloven

MacSwan, J. (2017). A multilingual perspective on translanguaging. American Educational Research Journal, 54(1), 167-201.

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