Translanguaging: A New Way to Communicate in Classrooms?

St Cross alumnus Professor Kevin W. H. Tai (MSc in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition, 2018) has published a book titled Multimodal Conversation Analysis and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis: A Methodological Framework for Researching Translanguaging in Multilingual Classrooms

Professor Tai is Assistant Professor of English Language Education at The University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Education and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute of Education, Faculty of Education and Society at University College London. 

His book provides reflections on the development of “translanguaging” — an emerging concept in the applied linguistics and language education field that involves switching or combining a range of linguistic and semiotic resources during conversations. This approach can be a mechanism for promoting equity and social justice. 

Many teachers worldwide follow a strict monolingual language policy, which only allows for one language to be spoken in the classroom at a time, based on the belief that students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds are a hindrance to their language development. 

kevin tai book cover

Meanwhile, translanguaging promotes the use of multiple languages and resources in a dynamic and integrated way to increase student inclusion in multilingual classrooms.

This approach rejects the monolingual language policy imposed by institutions and instead respects students as multilinguals, rather than monolinguals. The goal is to challenge the deeply ingrained ideologies of linguistic purism and monolingualism in language classrooms. 

Translanguaging encourages teachers and students to deploy their multilingual and multimodal resources to challenge the traditional configurations, categories, and power structures; equalise the hierarchy of languages in the classrooms; and allow students’ full participation in constructing new meanings and new configurations of language practices. 

There are different ways to implement translanguaging in the classroom. For example, teachers can create an imaginary context by using various resources, such as physical movements, gestures, and verbal utterances, to connect students’ prior knowledge and experience and help them understand abstract concepts.  

Another example is to ask students to discuss a topic in small groups using any language they prefer, but they must share their discussion in English with the whole class. Teachers can also introduce new English vocabulary items and ask students to translate the definition into their home languages or identify cognates in their home languages.

Combining these methodological approaches enables researchers to study how translanguaging practices are constructed in multilingual classrooms and how teachers make sense of their own translanguaging practices at particular moments of classroom interaction.

It is a unique methodological combination that provides a practical way for the study of multilingual interactions in linguistically and culturally diverse classrooms.

The book explains how translanguaging methodologies such as Multimodal Conversation Analysis (MCA) and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) can help enable a shift from using different linguistic codes for teachers, creating diverse multilingual, multimodal, and multisensory sign-making practices — making learning accessible for all students.